20 October 2012

PlumeNotes - What a Good Egg, Ol' Chap

Hey there folks! I’ve got a humdinger of a story for you. It’s a tale about a swell named Gatsby, as told by a gent named Nick Carraway.

We’ll get to all the skeletons rattling around in Gatsby’s closet, right after we examine the closets themselves, which are awesome. I do feel I should point out, however: Robert Redford is nowhere in this book, which I found rather disappointing; but pish-posh, onward! Let’s start with breakfast and for breakfast I like eggs; two of them, one on the East and one on the West. The East one should be hard-boiled and tidy; the West one is soft-boiled with a little fancy watercress garnish…

I duped you, folks, I’m not talking about breakfast but, of course, about two sides of the fabulously wealthy. That egg thing is called a metaphor and you should get used to them, because you’ll be drowning in a metaphorical ocean by the time we’re done. Swim, reader, swim!

Young Nick Carraway is a wet-behind-the-ears Midwesterner flush with a Yale degree, who heads over to the bourgeois West Egg to live. He tucks away in a nifty little cottage next to a proper monument-to-the-Victorian-age estate owned by one Mr. Jay Gatsby. Gatsby’s gorgeous.…er, I mean, he has a beautiful soul. Really.

Nick’s cousins are the Buchanans. Daisy’s adorable, but screwier than a pig’s tail. Her husband Tom isn’t much of a talker—unless you like racist, white supremacy talk, that is—then he’s a real hoot!

One night, Daisy and Tommy-Boy suck back a couple hundred cocktails over in their East Egg home and try to convince Nicky he needs to cash in by getting involved with this Jordan Baker dame – but she’s about as much fun as a funeral. When Nick returns home from that little cynical what’s-love-got-to-do-with-it confab, he spies Gatsby, whom he has never met, from a distance. Gatsby is standing at the edge of his dock with his arms stretched towards a green light across the water.

Best rethink hanging around water, ol’ sport. Water is not your friend.

No sooner have we washed the yolk of metaphors off our faces, when we’re launched into the Valley of Ashes to be stared at by the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. Jeepers, kids, I’d tell you to beware of symbolism, but if you can’t figure out that an enormous billboard with a pair of eyes peering down on a wasteland of industrial detritus is one, I can’t help you. Anyhow, Tommy-Boy and Nick hop a train to one George Wilson’s garage, located in the middle of this dump.

That Tommy-Boy not only knows how to show a fella a good time, his primary focus seems to be having one himself…as we find out when it’s revealed that Tommy-Boy’s extra-marital playpen, Myrtle Wilson, is married to the guy who owns the very garage he and Nick are visiting. Tom and Myrtle take Nick to their pied-à-terre in the city and throw an impromptu shindig.

Everyone gets blotto, which happens a lot, so fetch some waders to get through the subsequent gin-soaked pages.

It could be said that Tommy-Boy’s a hard one to read; one minute he’s giving Myrtle a puppy, the next he’s breaking her nose for talking about Daisy. Sheesh, what a sheik. Nick decides it’s best to scram, taking the bloodied Myrtle with him.

Wait a minute, pal – never mind her, what about that puppy?

On another night between drinks, Nick finds himself with nothing to do, when a tap at the door saves him. It’s an invite to one of Gatsby’s renowned parties! Nick pops through the hedge and the opulence of the Gatsby estate hits him nearly as hard as the symbolism of his entrance hits you. That Jordan dame is there and grabs hold of Nick tighter than a leech on an open wound. Nobody seems to know much about Gatsby. There’s lots of talk of Germany, spying and ties to the Kaiser (artillery shock, Mr. Fitzgerald?). Speculations give way to drinking (thank goodness, it’s been whole minutes without a cocktail) and Jordan and Nick find themselves gumming it with a swell at their table. He’s as charming as a snake in a basket and as spiffy as his bespoke glad rags.

Well, dress me up and call me a cab if it isn’t old Jay Gatsby himself!

Gatsby’s keen to know Nick – mighty keen. Nick notices Gatsby doesn’t drink. Golly, thinks Nick – is being sober in this story legal?

Gatsby then asks to bend Jordan’s ear in private and she returns flushed and all a-twitter, or would be, if Twitter existed back then. Gosh, Nick, you’ll never guess what she’s just heard. ..although you’ll have to guess, since Jordan beats it out of there without spilling the beans, like the insufferable elitist she is.

Nick spends the next few pages telling us all about his job in New York and how he is not like all the other eggs who don’t have to work and… Golly, sorry about that – I dozed off. Is it time to go back to Gatsby’s?

At some point, since Nick has no one better to do, he decides the dishonest, jaded and manipulative Jordan would make a fine sheba and they become an item after all. How fun!

Gatsby and Nick get on like a house on fire. On the way to lunch one day, they speed through the Valley of Ashes, which, if you are just joining us, is where metaphors commit suicide. Gatsby tells Nick all about his life – and what a life it is. No, truly, what life is it? Seems Gatsby is from affluent folks from that epicenter of culture in the Midwest, San Francisco. From there, he jumped the pond to Oxford and became decorated in the Peloponnesian War.

Nick starts to wonder if this is all on the up and up. Good to see that Ivy League education in action, Nick.

Lunch is with some big cheese named Meyer Wolfshiem. Gosh, what a unique name. Amid thoughts of the 1919 World Series, Nick decides maybe all is not jake with this chap. The bill is paid in blood-soaked bootlegging cash and Nick makes tracks to see his main squeeze. Jordan pours out some cocktails, because it has been a few sentences since a drink, and tells Nick that Gatsby is in love with Daisy. Golly, Daisy is Nick’s cousin – I wonder if that has something to do with Nick having a new best friend named Gatsby?

See, Gatsby and Daisy were just mad for each other in Louisville, Kentucky (that’s just outside San Francisco). They swore unending love to each other and Gatsby meant it. Daisy, on the other hand, being screwy, met and married Tommy-Boy before Gatsby got on a ship to go to war.

Wonder if this flakiness will prove a problem for Gatsby?

Daisy remains faithful to Tom even though he’s openly carrying on with any skirt that flits past him. So, naturally, Gatsby comes up with the smashing idea of ambushing Daisy with himself and his undying devotion when Nick invites her to tea. Swell idea, old sport.

In exchange for inviting Daisy to tea, Gatsby offers Nick a bunch of swag because that’s how Gatsby socializes. Horsefeathers! Nick says. If he’s going to arrange to have his vapid cousin come to his house, while Gatsby lies in wait, he’s going to do it free of charge. Atta boy, Nick – stick to those principles! Because there is absolutely nothing that could backfire by pushing a troubled female married to a violent womanizer into the arms of a shady rich guy with stalker tendencies.

The day of tea comes and it’s raining, because we didn’t already know this was a bad idea. Daisy shows up, but where has Gatsby gotten off to? He was just here looking pressed and spiffy a minute ago. Gatsby returns looking like a drowned rat after a jog in the rain. Good thought, friend – that immaculate look you had going was definitely a drag. Gatsby is a bit shaky – which is funny considering he is the only sober person in the state of New York – and keeps knocking stuff over. He tells Nick this wasn’t such a good idea. We are inclined to agree, old sport. But not Nick, he of ridiculously outsized faith, who leaves Jay and Daisy alone. When he returns, they’re as giddy as schoolchildren. I guess that settles that! Lovers it is. Golly, I hope Daisy can live up to Gatsby’s unobtainable ideal of her.

What am I saying? She’s the cat’s pajamas!

The crew takes the party to Gatsby’s digs. Daisy is ab-so-lute-ly stuck on Gatsby’s manse, seeing as how it is the most opulent residence in the history of man. Gatsby shows her the grounds, the view and all his possessions. Gatsby and his possessions… oh, pardon me Daisy. I didn’t see you there. Daisy seems really bowled over by all things Gatsby up until she sees his collection of English shirts, which make her bawl – the shirts, that is; they made her cry (how is Zelda, Mr. Fitzgerald?). To sop up those tears, Gatsby tells her all about his many nights spent on the dock gazing at her green light and wonders if he really does have the go-ahead with her.

This book should come with a warning to wear a helmet.

Daisy says “swell” and Klipspringer comes on out and tickles the ivories with “Ain’t we got fun.” Hang on a tick, who is this Klipspringer chap? Why is he here? Could he be an example of shallow uncaring hangers-on latching on to the coattails of their successful acquaintances?

Call Mark Wahlburg – have we got a pitch for him!

Gatsby continues to be the talk of the town, but nobody gets the story quite right so Nick jumps narratives and gives us Gatsby’s real back-story. Just a minute there, pal – you’ve known Gatsby’s true story this whole time? Applesauce!

Gatsby, or James Gatz, is from a farm in North Dakota – that’s why he doesn’t know where San Francisco is. He went to a few weeks of college at St. Olaf’s in Minnesota, which everyone knows is the Oxford of the Midwest. Gatsby had to work as a janitor to pay for school but that was just all wet for his image. He beats it out of there to Lake Superior. Warning an old drunk that he’s about to get caught in a storm, landed Gatsby a job with said drunk as his babysitter. Seeing firsthand what alcohol can do to a brilliant, vibrant, charismatic American treasure, Gatsby swears off the juice (Gosh, Mr. Fitzgerald, maybe you should give that sentence a second read). The drunk dies and leaves cash to Gatsby but the drunk’s mistress says “no-go, mooch” and Gatsby swears one day he will be richer and more powerful than anyone else.

Solid business plan, sport.

Back to Gatsby and Daisy – they spend most of their time hidden in Gatsby’s mausoleum… er, mansion, and Nick wises up about a few things. He pops in one time to see his waning mate when who should be parked on the sofa but Tommy-Boy – sans Daisy. Gatsby has the heebie-jeebies around Tommy-Boy, which makes sense because Tommy-Boy likes to break the nose of anyone who mentions Daisy. Gatsby mentions that he knows Daisy and won’t everyone stay for dinner? Alas, Tommy-Boy needs to save his appetite to feast on Gatsby’s flesh.

Nick finds himself at another swanky Gatsby party but sees it in a whole new light. Say, this isn’t swell – it’s an oppressive and shameless waste. Huh, what changed your mind there, Nick? Fortunately the gang’s all there – Tommy-Boy, Daisy, Jordan, Nick, Gatsby – again we ask, what could go wrong? Darn it if they don’t all have a miserable time. Tommy-Boy drags Daisy off and Gatsby fetches Nick for a chat.

See, Gatsby’s idea is to simply buy Daisy and force her to leave Tommy-Boy and then they can be just like they were in Louisville. You went to Oxford, old sport? Nick thinks again that maybe Gatsby is setting himself up for a fall with his ideal of Daisy, but, although pedantic enough to recount Gatsby’s life story, does not see any reason tell Gatsby this. Gatsby ditches his parties, his employees and removes his remaining foot from reality for Daisy.

I don’t know about the rest of you, I think this tomato’s starting to rot.

Blistering heat brings Nick to East Egg and the Buchanan’s home. Good ol’ Gatsby and Jordan are also there. Things get more heated inside than out and Gatsby thinks whisking Daisy to the city is a good idea. At this point, we are not sure Gatsby even knows how to spell Oxford. Tommy-Boy says let’s all go and they pile in a couple of breezers, headed for the city. But you can’t smoke a ciggy without making a few ashes and our band of merrymakers make for George Wilson’s garage with those darn eyes peering down from that enormous billboard. Golly, why don’t they take that thing down already? George has figured out his missus, Myrtle, is a floozy – but who’s the daddy she’s sneaking about with? Say, Do you know, Tommy-Boy? Hold my mirror a tick, would you?

At a suite in the Plaza, Tommy-Boy tells Gatsby he thinks something’s fishy with his stories, old sport – hey! That’s Gatsby’s line. When Tommy-Boy wants Gatsby to level with him about Oxford, Gatsby says he was there – training for the army. That explains it. Tommy-Boy razzes Gatsby and Daisy jumps on the Tommy-Boy bandwagon, because she’s a pushover. As a final blow – and consider those words – Tommy-Boy dispatches Gatsby to drive Daisy home. Tommy-Boy really stuck it to that sap – right up until Daisy, who actually did the driving, runs over Tommy-Boy’s lover in Gatsby’s car and flees the scene.

Nick heads to the Buchanan’s and finds Gatsby in the bushes. Gatsby is terribly worried about Daisy, thinking Tommy-Boy will kill her for offing Myrtle, and sends Nick to check. Gatsby is going to take all the blame, noble chap that he is. What, Daisy? Oh she’s fine. Having no moral compass allows you to have a nice meal with your husband after you’ve bumped off his baby.

Speaking of babies, didn’t the Buchanans have one? They did, but Daisy seems to care less about the kid than she would about a random squirrel wandering into the house.

Nick walks away from the lot of them. Gatsby stays out in front of the Buchanan house until four in the morning… say, ol sport, about those stalker tendencies…

But Nick can’t stay away from Gatsby for too long and comes round the next day. Nick wonders aloud if maybe Daisy is one possession Gatsby should pass on. But Gatsby tells Nick he can’t think of a life without Daisy. Fortunately for Gatsby, George Wilson will see that he doesn’t have to.

The gardener wants to drain the pool so leaves won’t clog it but Gatsby fancies a swim first. Bring a life preserver, friend – you may drown in the ensuing irony.

While at work, Nick has a nagging feeling that something is amiss. Go with your gut there, friend – but do it too late, of course. The newly dead Myrtle’s husband, George Wilson, has put two and twelve together to make three, under the eternal stare of that infernal billboard in the Valley of Ashes, and decides to kill Gatsby. He goes to the Gatsby estate, finds Gatsby in the pool and shoots him.

Another dead soldier, old sport.

The funeral is a frightful affair populated by more rumor than people. Nick thinks maybe scrambled eggs are not for him and packs up to head home. Jordan says that’s just fine with her, she is going to marry someone else anyway – what a dame! Tommy-Boy appears on the street in New York right before Nick leaves and offers his hand to Nick. Nick finally sees Tommy-Boy as a bigoted, arrogant bully and tells him to kiss off.

But chivalry wins out and the old school chums shake.

Which is when Tommy-Boy confesses that he had lied to George Wilson, telling him Gatsby killed Myrtle. Tommy-Boy’s real lament, though, is that he had to give up his love shack with Myrtle – what with her being dead and all. Nick asks for his hand back and later has it amputated to get rid of the stench of the Buchanans.

Back at Gatsby’s, Nick bids the old sport and the life he knew with him adieu. The final moments are so weighed down by symbolism, the AMA has declared those pages hazardous to your health.


Nick went on to bark at criminals and attorneys in a slurred voice before going back to his first love, the stock market. Tom Buchanan pretty much continued the sociopath theme throughout his career, though he has a lovely and talented daughter named Laura. Daisy’s life after Gatsby demands nothing less than a 400-page description, but we can definitely say her bad luck with men is a recurring theme. Jay Gatsby, though dead, went on to purchase Demi Moore.

I give The Great Gatsby 1,600 plumes for merely existing.

Take Away from The Great Gatsby: The Gatsby drinking game – drink every time you find a metaphor/symbol.

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