I am really, really hoping to get the chance to see Baz Luhrmann's new movie adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, when it comes out in May:
I am a sucker for all things Baz Luhrmann. I loved Strictly Ballroom, I saw Romeo + Juliet about seven times in the theater (ah, college, when you still have time and think someday you'll make enough money to make up for such frivolous spending), and Moulin Rouge is the only movie I ever went to by myself because I loved it and frankly, I just wanted to adore Ewan McGregor in solitude. But while casting about for something to read the other night, I saw the novel on Mr. CR's bookshelf and thought, "hey, I haven't read this book since high school. It was okay--maybe I should read it again before I see the movie."
I did, over the course of two nights, and adored it, although perhaps "adored" is the wrong word for a novel that I found just overwhelmingly sad this time around. I can summarize the story pretty briefly: Boy loves girl; girl is married to someone else; boy thinks love can conquer all; love turns out to be more complex than boy realizes. Add the backdrop of 1920s New York and a dollop of class warfare, and there you go (for more detail: Wikipedia --in case you haven't read it, spoilers abound there).
I was thoroughly engaged by this book this time around, in a way that I know I wasn't in high school. In fact, upon finishing it, I said to Mr. CR, "Why are they giving this book to high schoolers?" I know it's a classic. It's beautifully written. But it is also deceptively simple, I think. I know the money/class aspect alone would just have been way beyond me in high school, and I already knew then what a joke it was to try and keep up with the popular crowd by buying the right clothes and owning the right things (there was no way, at least not for me, to keep up, was the joke). But in high school and even college, youth is a great equalizer. You're all young and gutsy and beautiful, even when you don't think you are. To me it only seems like after school that you start to realize, insidiously, that getting ahead (or even just staying afloat, lately) seems to largely be about knowing the right people and simply being in the right place while knowing those people. Only after school, I feel, do you start to realize the genius of the heartbreak when Gatsby starts to realize Daisy is slipping away from him...
"'Her voice is full of money,' he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the cymbals' song of it...High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl..." (p. 127).
Or this, from the narrator, later still:
"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together..." (p. 188).
I just don't think you can appreciate the bleakness, and the truth, of that, in high school. Do you?