NPR book critic Corrigan (Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books, 2005) offers an occasionally self-indulgent but mostly spot-on reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s greatest novel—and, according to some critics, the greatest novel in American literature.
Those who know The Great Gatsby only through Baz Luhrmann’s recent outing with Leonardo DiCaprio don’t know the book at all, for, among other things, writes Corrigan, Luhrmann had a “larger project, I think, to defang the novel’s class criticism.” A fundamental uneasiness underlies Gatsby: As rich as the title character is, he can never make his way into the much more rarefied world of the Old Rich; as rich as he is, he cannot ward off fate, justice, karma and what Corrigan wisely calls “the Void.” If Corrigan occasionally offers reading-group notes for the cashmere-sweater set—yes, Zelda was a loon; yes, Scott was a bad drunk; yes, Hemingway was an asshole—at other times, she’s right on the case, turning up fascinating and sometimes-controversial gems: Could part of Gatsby’s mystery lie in a mixed-race past? As to the race front, why is it that Fitzgerald has Tom Buchanan reading a book with the title The Rise of the Colored Empires, a book thinly modeled on one that Fitzgerald’s own publisher had just released? There’s much flowing under the surface of Fitzgerald’s novel, and though Corrigan puts too much emphasis on herself and not enough on Jay and company (“I try to breathe deep and accept my powerlessness, as recommended by the on-line daily meditation program I sporadically log onto”), she does a good job of pointing out what we should be paying attention to, which goes far beyond billboards and chandeliers.
Corrigan’s close reading is welcome, though one hopes that readers will first revisit Fitzgerald’s pages before dipping into hers.