Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reflections: Trimalchio

I usually don’t care about early editions or first editions or special editions of books - even my most favorite ones. But, I readily invested in this early and unedited version of The Great Gatsby because the book/story managed to capture me enough to want to read the early, “unedited” version, as it were. The story of The Great Gatsby is one that grows on the reader. The reader should let it wash over them and let it slowly sink in. As with most classics, I realized that ruminating on the story and re-reading it brings out nuances and perspectives that really underline why it is a classic. My first read of this classic was interesting, but I was more absorbed in the mechanics of the story. It was palpable that I had missed something. My second read intrigued me, because I was reminded of something my husband (or rather Lisa Simpson) often says -  “listen to the tunes not played to understand the beauty.” Fitzgerald's slim and edited version is full of these unplayed tunes. While it seemed to give the story an almost abrupt and forced brevity the first time I read it, it was beautiful and intriguing during my second read. Given this, I wanted to read Trimalchio, the first version of The Great Gatsby and take in all the played and unplayed tunes.

I loved this version. Seriously, I can’t understand why Fitzgerald would want to re-work and edit a perfectly excellent book! Since you expect “more stuff” in this book, you assume it would run longer than its trimmed and hemmed successor. But this version is as slim as the other! I didn’t do a page-by-page comparison between the two books (because that would categorically make me obsessive), but I realized the additions, and yet the math doesn’t line up!

In any case, since this early version provided more context and content, I appreciated it much more. However, the subtlety and mystery that the edited version provided is still present in this one. There are so many more beautiful passages that could be re-read and interpreted with every read. The metaphors, the symbols, the predictions, and the moral underpinnings are so much more eloquently and insightfully written. The characters are more fleshed out, their motivations and influences more honed in, and the withering bitter sarcasm toned down. Most importantly, there is more emotion - in the narration and the characters, and that makes this version more soulful. The emotions make the excesses, the materialism and the moral and philosophical implications stand out that more.

I have to agree that this is an American classic. It paints America in all its glory and decadence. The insight and relevance is what makes it a classic. The beauty and poignancy of the writing will stay with me. 

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