Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Two Gatsbys but not THAT one

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Two Gatsbys but not THAT one

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

No, I have not seen the movie. The fact that it’s a box office cash-a-thon neck in neck with “Iron Man 3” is warning enough that maybe it’s not the masterpiece in its purest form.  That suspicion was confirmed at dinner last night when our friends Terry and Todd told us they had seen a terrible movie over the weekend. (We thought at first they meant the vapid mess we saw, “Something in the Air.") So maybe I won’t see this Gatsby incarnation.  No matter. I’ve got two great Gatsbys.

 First and last and always is the book. How many times have I read it? Who knows. From the first time racing through to see “what happens” to reading at a smartish pace for an exam....I’m certainly read it just for itself at some point, but not in a long time. 

Gentle readers, this is The Book. Stunning in the beauty, economy, and power of its language and in its deft sounding of the human heart, this remains a satisfying gem.  I am nowhere near finishing because this time through I am savoring each word, swirling it in my mouth like the fine vintage it is. I am hoping to talk Dr. D. into reading it with me, both for the pleasure of sharing it and to puzzle together through some of the delicate layers. What sad irony that F. Scott Fitzgerald died thinking this story he wrote in 1925 was a failure. 

In addition to reading the book, on Sunday Dr. D. and I saw Emmanuel Music’s concert production of “The Great Gatsby,” John Harbison’s stunning opera. The opera is faithful to the book, using Fitzgerald’s perfect words. And then there is this other dimension. From jagged undercurrents to smooth oiling over of hollowness, the music provides a new way to take in the story. Although I’m not at all knowledgable about music, this gave me the sense of not hearing the story retold so much as told in a fuller voice. Does that make sense? 

You know how you read about a fictional character and try to picture him or her. Unlike the transformation of Daniel Day Lewis into Lincoln--it takes place totally in your imagination. What does Mr. Darcy look like? (Well, ok, we’re fine with Colin Firth there.) Anna Karenina? And the crowd from Gatsby--do you picture Daisy looking and sounding like Carey Mulligan? Mia Farrow? What would a voice “full of money” sound like? And Gatsby’s voice?

Like that kind of mental filling-in, Harbison’s “Gatsby,” adds something you might not have thought was missing from the story. Another layer of color to the green light, the blue (!) lawn. The story and more. What a pleasure to have had the chance to hear the opera just when I was reading the book. 

Harbison’s opera will be presented this summer at Tanglewood. You’ve got time to order tickets and, in the time it takes to watch the movie, you can read the book again.

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