These past few weeks, we’ve been splashing around in the milk of wonder, sharing our favorite quotes from THE GREAT GATSBY as part of our Riot Read. But hey, even F. Scott doesn’t hit it out of the park every time. Call me a crank, but while re-reading the novel after many years, some lines struck me as awkward. And that’s a good thing.
In a strange way, these off-notes make me like the book even more. It’s not a glossy, impenetrable, flawless surface. Sometimes those sentences help me get a better grip on the ideas, rather than just sitting back and admiring perfection. Maybe some are clunky on purpose, to bring things back to earth.
To my ear, the big stinker comes in the final paragraphs of chapter six—right in the middle of that famous passage when Gatsby falls in love with Daisy. It’s the passage we often had to read aloud in school, with all those lush descriptions of the white moonlight and the bustling stars and Daisy’s flower-face.
“Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees…” I’m with you! It’s magic! I’m soaring… “he could climb to it, if he climbed alone”… Such a crisp equation, like fairy-tale language, beautiful… “and once there he could suck on the pap of life….” Wait, what? Pap? Pap! That sounds like a dead fish hitting a counter. I mentally hear it in a nasal, flat accent. Sucking on the paaaaaap. All the music in that paragraph comes to a crashing halt.
Of course, that may be the point—an earthy image with a barnyardy word to keep one metaphorical foot on the ground, before Gatsby’s heart, and the language, goes wafting up over the treetops.
How about you—are there lines in Gatsby that strike you as overinflated, clumsy, or just plain bad?