And no, not the overhyped new movie–the book itself, that bullet-proof literary classic. Kathryn Schulz lays it out for you, and I am not unsympathetic. I re-read it myself a few weeks ago, partly because I first read it when I was too young to really grasp what it was up to, and partly because my 18-year-old daughter (a more acute reader while in high school than I ever was, apparently) had a vociferously negative reaction to it. I am a big fan of Schulz, one of a group of terrific younger female critics (including Elif Batuman, Ruth Franklin, and Zadie Smith) I follow avidly.
Heavy plot, heavy symbolism, zero psychological motivation: Those are the genre conventions of fables and fairy tales. Gatsby has been compared to both, typically to suggest a mythical quality to Fitzgerald’s characters or a moral significance to his tale. But moral significance requires moral engagement: challenge, discomfort, illumination, or transformation. The Great Gatsby offers none of that.
I only hope Tender is the Night holds up better when I get back around to that one this summer.