At the enchanted metropolitan twilight

Tuesday, 22 August, 2017

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is underway and the glow from the beautiful metaphysics of Fitzgerald’s prose lights up the drawing-in evenings. A paragraph:

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others — poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner — young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

To his great credit, Jay McInerney has spent his life trying to emulate this and it’s not his fault that he has never matched it. But who has? With Gatsby, published 92 years ago, Fitzgerald achieved the miracle of sounding contemporary while appealing to an audience that had grown up reading Henry James. His genius is that the book continues to sound contemporary.

Fitzgerald wrote in the shadow of evil and no one who reads The Great Gatsby can put it down without feeling a sense of dread. Not just for those who would lose their fortunes in 1929, but for those who would be dragged into war in 1939. And as we get ready to mark the annual anniversary of the slaughter of 3,000 men and women in New York City by the 9/11 jihadists, his observation about “the most poignant moments of night and life” rings true across the decades.

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