I read this because Susan Bell uses it as the prime example of a masterful self-edit in chapter two of her book The Artful Edit. I’d picked up Bell’s book off a YouTube recommendation, and because I’d become self-conscious about my ability to edit manuscript despite doing so for three books, more than a hundred and fifty pieces of micro fiction, and countless poems. Also, despite overwhelmingly positive feedback from last semester’s genre fiction workshop, I still felt as though I could refine my self-taught skills. Along came the Bell rec and I dropped everything else I was reading so that I could get the time in before the start of the next semester. And then she goes on and on about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book like I’m already supposed to be intimately familiar with it, only I’d been served Golding’s Lord of the Flies in high school instead and had missed Gatsby entirely. I put a bookmark in Bell’s book and snatched up Gatsby from Amazon Classics at the perfect price of free and set to work on drilling through it so I could get back to learning how to edit before 2023 arrived to steal another year from me.
The Great Gatsby is a good book. It wasn’t a hit when it was published, despite Fitzgerald’s conviction that it was the best thing he’d ever written. As I read it with an eye toward concision it struck me that it was some of the sharpest prose I’d ever experienced. It felt as though there wasn’t a single superfluous word in it anywhere. The book isn’t just tight; it’s lean like a prizefighter on weigh-in day with not a single ounce of fat on him. This makes it sublime in its readability, and I never once tripped over any clunky speedbumps in Fitzgerald’s road.
I love that this is one of those books that’s not about anything exceptional or weird. I think I may have spent far too much of my life reading fantastic genre fiction while ignoring these wonderful stories about normal—or at least, semi-normal—human beings. The Great Gatsby is one of these, and preeminently so.