Friday, June 18, 2010

First Discussion: Chapter One

I have to get in a quick post before I leave for the evening. How to begin this discussion? Perhaps I should just note a few things that stood out as I read the first chapter.

Irony (Begins the book--establishes a fundamental theme of reality vs. perception)
Loneliness (Anthony, New York)
An appreciation for beauty (Anthony)
The audacity of well-educated, wealthy youth--and its inevitable (?) fall

As I finished the chapter, I was overwhelmed by sadness. Anthony seems to "have it all," yet even his "reproachless" apartment and well-connected friends cannot fill his aching. And what is in store for "Beauty"?!


  1. I love this book so far. It's been a long time since I've read Fitzgerald, and it was like returning a familiar house where a good friend lives.

    Beauty has some very specific dates attached to her. Is it the Jazz Age generally, or a specific girl? I guess we'll find out.

    So far to me seems that Irony is not so much the difference between reality and perception as two realities that come in conflict with each other – strangely linked. He provides set after set of contrasts -- all so brilliantly captured. There's the title, The Beautiful AND damned. Anthony is wealthy and sad. The woman on the neighboring roof is somehow gorgeous and disappointing. I especially love his walk home during the section called “Night.” He encounters both the glittering “artificial lake of laughter” and the ugliness of the bakery, pharmacy, and laundry in one short span. His grandfather's life is like bellows – full of life at first, and now sucked free of it. Anthony meanwhile does “nothing” with his time, but still “managed to divert himself with more than average content.” It seems like it's a continuous list of things that are oddly linked together in ways that don't seem to make sense, but which fit real life.

    I couldn't help but notice the little hints of Gatsby. His adoration of the woman on the roof next-door, and his subsequent disappointment with her all seem like a mini Gatsby episode.

    I especially liked “Night.” There's such an emphasis on him being “safe” when he gets back to his apartment. And the bathroom – the most private room in the house – is his greatest pride. I wonder why. I wonder what he's safe from.

  2. David and Grace, thanks for your comments, which ring true to me.

    I read the chapter mostly out loud, which allowed me to savor the exquisite beauty of Fitzgerald's diction.

    While I luxuriate in the lush detail of his descriptions, I find them a bit overgrown, like a garden after several days of rain. Gatsby is a sparer and, in that way, better book. Sometimes Fitzgerald loses control of his metaphors. What, after all, is going on when a shop smells pink? Was Fitzgerald synesthetic? Because I'm not, I just don't know what to imagine when he says stuff like this. It's distracting and irritating.

    I confess to the same reaction when he went to the device of a play script to present us with the conversation of the three friends in the restaurant. He is so good at writing flowing prose description and working dialogue into it (see the interview between Anthony and his grandfather). Why did he deprive us of this in the restaurant scene? I didn't see any advantage in this.

    I find poor Anthony hard to like. What we know about him seems banal and superficial. He seems as though he could slip unnoticed into Bret Easton Ellis' Less than Zero. If all there is to Anthony is what Fitzgerald has so far presented--and there is no reason to think so twenty pages into a book of this length--then "beautiful" and "damned" describe this wretch perfectly.

    Out of practice as I am at reading novels, I have perhaps been expressing here mostly my own impatience to see Fitzgerald get on with it. Yet I love his language and description when they are under his precise control. Then I can wait for whatever "action" he dangles just out of my reach.

  3. I agree about the metaphors. It almost seems like he went metaphor crazy as some kind of writing experiment in this book. But are you sure that you don't have any pink-smelling rooms at your place?

    And I also think you are right about how we are dwelling on things that aren't really moving the plot along. Maybe he wants us to have a taste of just how superficial and stagnant his life is.