Letter: An Exquisite But Flawed Narrative
To the Editor:
Short of attacking the New Testament, Ernest Hebert’s denunciation of The Great Gatsby could not have unleashed a more virulent firestorm of outrage from Upper Valley readers. And, yes, Hebert did seem to be on dubious ground with his criticism of F. Scott Fitzgerald for his focus on the idle rich and their contempt for all those gainfully employed. Some pretty fair works have delved into the lives of genuine scoundrels, and think how barren our lives would be without them. Othello without Iago? Sigh …
But perhaps a closer perusal of the novel by its champions might unearth some indifferent writing that fairly cried out for fine tuning. Tucked in there among that exquisite narrative –– a narrative whose brilliance probably even Hebert would have to acknowledge — were all those bloody adverbs and swaths of overwriting that served to take a perfectly sound piece of dialogue and suck out its delicious tension and emotion — as inevitably occurs whenever an author tells his readers more than they need to know. Examples: “ ‘The piece is known,’ he concluded lustily, ‘as Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World.’ ” Or, “ ‘Don’t mention it,’ he enjoined me eagerly.’ ” By my count, there are 77 such verbal aids in the first four chapters.
I wonder why Fitzgerald, whose instincts were so often dead on, didn’t trust his readers to catch his drift without such adverbial help?
Also for those who insist Gatsby is beyond flaws, consider that fourth chapter in which the author introduces us to Meyer Wolfsheim, the infamous gangster who supposedly was responsible for the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Fitzgerald, for inexplicable reasons, attributed the man’s nose with strange and wondrous powers, powers that might better have been left unrecorded. In succession, Wolfsheim “covered Gatsby with his expressive nose,” and later, “Mr. Wolfsheim’s nose flashed at me (the narrator) indignantly.” Then Wolfsheim’s “nostrils turned to me in an interested way,” and finally, as the man made his departure “he shook hands and turned away, his tragic nose was trembling.”
Quite a novel, all right, but is it acceptable to note some blemishes?