Retro read–Lavish illustrated edition arrives of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s been called the greatest American novel of all time.  Nearly a century since its first publication, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is the rare historical drama novel that holds up.  It’s an indictment of the American “filthy rich,” of 1920s racism, and it was a turning point of modern fiction.  A precursor of sorts to the noir crime novel, especially via its first-person narrator Nick Callaway, it doubles as a doomed romance.  Its legacy can be found in stories from Sunset Boulevard to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby since you first read it in junior high, now is a good time to take another look.  Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers has released a stunning, lavish, illustrated hardcover edition, with artwork that actually assists the reader with some of the stranger, less translatable bits to today.

For starters, if you ever were puzzled over the “eyes of Dr. Eckleburg,” Adam Simpson’s Jazz Age illustrations in appropriate era muted tones will help you out.  The cover jacket is gilded in art deco design, with gold end papers, and a piercing green light beckoning across the waters.

If you missed this in high school, the key takeaway is that young socialite Jay Gatsby is an odd sort who owns a mansion on the East coast, throws big parties in a Bruce Wayne style, and he did it all for the love of a woman he met during World War I.  The war tie is key to the legacy of the novel, as World War II soldiers were given free copies of the book to pass the time.  Imagine coming back from a bombing run at the end of the day, a third of the crews didn’t return, and you have 22 more missions before you can go home.  Fitzgerald’s descriptions of a similar ex-soldier going home and making it big–really big, millionaire equivalent life-style–along with the prospects of happening upon a beautiful woman to fall in love with, and it makes sense.

Today the excesses of the wealthy stand out loudly.  In the story a few characters make off with what amounts to two statutory murders, and they’re able to walk away from both because of their wealth and status.

Gatsby is a bit of a Citizen Kane.  We see him surrounded by wealth, and it’s not enough.  “Money doesn’t buy happiness” never rang truer than for these two icons of fiction.  The character arc that really shows Fitzgerald’s skill is his narrator Nick Callaway.  Every other generation has that archetype who wanders through the world without letting much get to him.  It’s refreshing to see Fitzgerald comment on social classes, racism, and gender via Callaway, even if it isn’t loud and pronounced.  It’s especially powerful since Fitzgerald hadn’t seen where the anti-Semitism would lead in the next big war.

The 1920s is infused via poetry and song and setting, but it’s all really only backdrop for the kind of circuitous storytelling style we’d see in later, big dramatic novels and films, again like the aforementioned Sunset Boulevard and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  Like those stories, there’s not a lot of mystery going on here.  But it still has its intrigue.

The design also incorporates the original fonts and text from the first edition.  Chapter and footer design, along with thick paper stock, make this book a real treat to read.  A great gift for anyone you know who hasn’t read it–or hasn’t read it in years–The Great Gatsby: A Novel, is available now in this new hardcover edition with artwork by Adam Simpson and fabulous design elements, here at Amazon.

Leave a Reply