His prose is like sunlight. Even the most horrible sentiments have the lustre of wet pearls. Reading the book, it is almost impossible not to fall in love with Jay Gatsby. He is the perfect, self-made man – right down to the narrative he gives his own life. But what strikes me about Gatsby, in the context of my own sorry life and the narrative that my husband’s alcoholism has given it, is how he stands outside, apart from everything.
He throws parties that he observes from his polished staircase. He distances himself from the corruption of his business practices. And he stands aloof from the drunken disorder that fills his home week after week.
Fitzgerald’s descriptions of Gatsby’s parties are precise and uncomfortably accurate:
“Oh, she’s all right now. When she’s had five or six cocktails she always starts screaming like that. I tell her she ought to leave it alone.”
“We heard you yelling, so I said to Doc Civet here: ‘There’s somebody that needs your help, Doc.'”
“She’s much obliged, I’m sure,” said another friend, without gratitude, “but you got her dress all wet when you stuck her head in the pool.”
“Anything I hate is to get my head stuck in a pool,” mumbled Miss Baedeker. “They almost drowned me once over in New Jersey.”
“Then you ought to leave it alone,” countered Doctor Civet.
“Speak for yourself!” cried Miss Baedeker violently. “Your hand shakes. I wouldn’t let you operate on me!”
There are many similar moments in the novel – mindless prattle, car crashes and drunken afternoons that bloom with bad temper. Fitzgerald casts these scenes initially with humour, then increasingly with tension and portent. Drink is the province of the feckless. Sobriety the choice of the wise.
But it is a lonely place. Set apart by his sober disposition, his nostalgia for a love that cannot compete with the memory of it, Gatsby ultimately finds himself abandoned by the hundreds who once tumbled freely into his home and helped themselves to his generosity. His loneliness follows him from life into death.
And I suppose this is what weights itself most in my mind – this abiding loneliness. It is the province of the alcoholic’s family. And the narrative we build around ourselves seals us from the gaze of judgement, and within the tyranny of the alcoholic’s addiction.
- Jay McInerney: why Gatsby is so great (guardian.co.uk)
- Watch: ‘The Great Gatsby’ trailer (marquee.blogs.cnn.com)