Killer Nashville Book of the Day


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F. Scott Fitzgerald

Clay Stafford Revisits “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Many years ago—okay, decades—I was forced in school to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. Why they assign books like that to kids, even high-schoolers, is beyond me. I don’t recall having a good feeling about it. I couldn’t remember the story, but I’m pretty sure I aced the book report. Then those brain cells died.

The Great Gatsby” was referenced three different times from three different sources this past week, which is my usual “sign from God” that I should read or re-read something. Decades after the first pass, I did.

After reading it, I understood why I hadn’t cared for it as a youth: it is a masterpiece that no one who hasn’t lived to some degree could possibly understand. I read it a second time. After reading it twice, I also watched the movie (I chose the Mira Sorvino starrer directed by Robert Markowitz and adapted for screen by John McLaughlin.)

The plot appears to be a love story. Looking on the jacket, you’ll see phrases like “playing Cupid” and “former love”. Without telling my wife anything about it, I asked her to watch it with me. She was delighted because—even after seeing it with me—she described it to our son as “a type of love story”. Her description matched the jacket. My response? It is anything but a love story.

Character Nick Carraway narrates the story of two former lovers spiraling down to murder. It’s an ensemble cast where we get to know these incredibly dysfunctional characters, learn the secrets of their pasts, feel the tension in the present moment, and know at the end as things unravel (suspense) that this was a Shakespearean tragedy from the start. From a writer’s perspective, the use of the setting (time and place) as a character itself is masterful in its craftsmanship and something missed in most modern day writing. The characters, all of them, are so well-distinguished that—even without the movie—they are solid in our minds.

It’s a short novel (mine, the Matthew J. Bruccoli edition) comes in at a mere 135 pages, which is interestingly close to the 120 page script of any feature movie. Seeing it that short, I wondered what it would look like as a film, what would be changed, what would be added or removed. I chose the Mira Sorvino version for no other reason than I liked the movie poster / DVD jacket. McLaughlin’s script and Markowitz’s directing, as well as the stellar performances of all the actors, superbly visualized what I myself had seen in the novel itself. I think Fitzgerald, who died thinking his novel was a failure, would have been one of the few writers who looked at the screen version of their work and said, “That’s just as I envisioned it.”

If you haven’t read “The Great Gatsby” or it has been years since you were forced to read it, I’m recommending it to you now to experience it by choice. If you prefer to watch the TV, rent the movie or pick it up at your local library. Like me, you’ve probably got some age on you and you will find yourself filling in all the parts of life that are masterfully left out by Fitzgerald to bring it into this tight 135 pages making it truly an interactive experience, a growing realization, and one of the most reader/viewer involved experiences (for you actually become Nick in your deciphering of what is going on) as you could possibly experience. As you read, note how skillfully Fitzgerald manipulates your loyalties beneath the watchful eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.

Three times it was mentioned to me. Three times I experienced the story (2 times with the book, once with the movie). It is a miracle of an experience.

Clay Stafford is a writer, filmmaker, and founder of Killer Nashville. Learn more about him at

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