Gods and Mortals
I really like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I am not alone in this, of course – and I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, I do like the book. I like how short it is; I like the story’s elegant simplicity; I like that it’s a classic tragedy; I like that it’s romantic; and yes, I also like Fitzgerald’s voice, which manages to be both conversational and precise. I’ve read it twice – once when I was twenty-one and once when I was in my forties, and I liked it equally both times. But, as I said, I’m not the first to recognize this. When lists are made of the 100 Greatest Novels, Gatsby usually places in the top three. It’s a staple of high school language arts classes and college literature and creative writing courses. The last sentence is held up as the shining standards of last sentences, if such a thing actually exists. The literary world, in short, has come to an agreement about this book.
That said, it’s still just a book written by mortal a writer. Fitzgerald is not a deity and Gatsby is not a sacred text. It’s a story. It’s a story that did not sell as well as some of Fitzgerald’s other books. It’s story, in fact, that only sold seven copies the year he died – five of which he bought to give as gifts. Now, however, it’s famous. Now, it’s The Great American Novel.
But once upon a time it was just a story that someone wanted to tell. It’s worth remembering. Perhaps you feel there is a qualitative difference between what you write and what Fitzgerald wrote. This difference exists entirely in your imagination. The difference is no greater than between you and any other writer on the planet. I don’t care about the 100 Greatest Novels. I don’t care that Hemingway called it a great book in A Movable Feast. I don’t care about college courses or last sentences or movie adaptations or the canon.
I care about the next thing I’m going to write, and if I place Gatsby on some holy pedestal, if I deify Fitzgerald, it makes the next thing that much harder write. Now I am caught in a world of mortals and gods, and I am all too aware of my own mortality. I like Gatsby and I’m glad Fitzgerald wrote it, but it deserves exactly as much space on the shelf as it’s 197 pages requires – the rest of the shelf belongs to all of us.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.