June 11, 2012 In an essay written for The Guardian, esteemed novelist, wine critic, former Nashville resident, and part-time actor Jay McInerney has set out to plumb the depths of the spirit of American consciousness. Delving into the universally-acknowledged American classic The Great Gatsby, he argues on behalf of its cultural impact, writing that its style of decadence, frivolity, and primal love in the midst of a hectic era is what “defines the American psyche.” And with the great success of the Broadway hit Gatz and the anticipation of the upcoming Hollywood adaptation of the book, McInerney makes the case that The Great Gatsby is just as significant and relevant as ever:
The enduring appeal of Fitzgerald’s third novel, as with many great novels, is partly dependent on a benign misinterpretation on the part of readers, a surrender to fascination with wealth and glamour, and the riotous frivolity of the jazz age. Fitzgerald was by no means an uncritical observer, as some have suggested; the most villainous of these characters are the wealthiest, and Nick Carraway is something of a middle-class prig, who, much as he tries to reserve judgment, is ultimately sickened by all the profligacy and the empty social rituals of his summer among the wealthy of Long Island. “I wanted no more riotous excursion with privileged glimpses into the human heart,” he says at the end. And yet Fitzgerald had a kind of double agent’s consciousness about the tinsel of the jazz age, and about the privileged world of inherited wealth; he couldn’t help stopping to admire and glamorise the glittering interiors of which his midwestern heart ultimately disapproved. Gatsby’s lavish weekly summer parties are over the top, ridiculous, peopled with drunks and poseurs, and yet we can’t help feeling a sense of loss when he suddenly shuts them down after it’s clear that Daisy—for whom the whole show was arranged in the first place—doesn’t quite approve. We shouldn’t approve either, and yet in memory they seem like parties to which we wish we’d been invited.
Read the rest of McInerney’s essay here.
Read Chapter 16’s review of McInerney’s short-story collection here.