F. Scott Fitzgerald's Small World

By Ta-Nehisi Coates



Having long railed against The Great Gatsby in 3D, I was obviously really interested in the trailer. It actually looks smashing. I am not a nostalgic, so I kind of love the surrealist, almost sci-fi take on New York in the roaring '20s.

But as impressed as I was by the look of the thing, I'm pretty sure I'll be skipping it. Gatsby, to me, will always be the ultimate study in the oxymoronic—a small book about a really big idea. That contrast—brevity and The Great American Novel, Fitzgerald's small world and the grand idea of American social-climbing—is what I come back to in the book. That, and of course, the characters.

Gatsby is a book that has come to mean something to people (or perhaps simply to Hollywood directors) that sometimes feels disconnected from the book itself. Fitzgerald's great trick was to write about two people who wanted each other, but not write a love story. Of course I root for Daisy to leave Tom every time. But my rooting is wrong, and by the end of the book, Fitzgerald has really shown you why. Daisy is the one that got away—except you have no idea what that means. That "one" isn't some better future. She is a person—a indelibly flawed American. Like you.

Gatsby is something I haven't seen recently in American film—a kind of anti-melodrama, an anti-love story. Perhaps it's my present biases, but I'd have loved to see the French take this one on.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/05/f-scott-fitzgeralds-small-world/257745/