Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Greater Gatsby [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

I finally got around to seeing the Baz Lurhmann-directed Gatsby starring Leonardo diCaprio and my reaction was odd. As a film it was okay, but what struck me most was how much better it would have been if Fitzgerald had been a mystery writer. Or for that matter, a horror writer. Let me explain...

But first a necessary digression. The two authors who get the lion's share of credit for modern prose style are Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald. This is all nice and fine as long as you live in a bubble. My choices for the top prose modernizers would be Dashiell Hammett and Erle Stanley Gardner. For example, The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway has been in print continuously since 1926. The Great Gatsby was rated 2 on the Modern Library Top 100, while The Maltese Falcon only 56. (Not bad for a serial from the pages of Black Mask!) But the Perry Mason series has sold over 300 million. Gardner was the best-selling American writer of the 20th century at the time of his death. These four authors sum up the popular and the academic version of the truth.

Anyway, it is obvious where my bias is. I am a pulp guy and always will be. Which brings me back to The Great Gatsby. I think the entire story could have been twice as interesting if it had been done as a noir novel. Think of it. The story is not told by failed writer turned stockbroker Nick Carraway, but by the man who is hired to find the killer of the mysterious Mr Jay Gatsby. George Wilson does not commit suicide after the shooting but runs, making our detective have to find him. To untie the knot would require him to find out about Tom Buchanan's affair with Mrs Wilson and beat the snot out of Nick Carraway until he spilled the beans about his cousin Daisy and Gatsby`s obsession with her. George would die in a chase across the New York docks and our detective would the have to find the Buchanan family who have run away, so that he could arrest Daisy for Myrtle Wilson's death. Would he do it? His stern PI code could push him either way. Of course, Gatsby's thug connections could spice up the whole stew with gunmen and roughs. Now doesn't that sound more interesting than following Tobey Maguire around for 2 hours and 20 minutes?

And that's just option one. There's still option two: the horror version. Fitzgerald had the right idea telling the story in a nuthouse. In the best Lovecraftian tradition, Nick Carraway is locked away in Arkham Asylum, spewing his sad, dark tale. In this version Gatsby is not only rich but an inventor and scientist. He has obsessed over Daisy, pursues her cruelly until she kills herself. But that won't stop Jay Gatsby. He resurrects her with a strange formula purchased from a stranger in Geneva, reputed to have once belonged to Dr Victor Frankenstein, combining it with weird experiments by New Englander, Herbert West. Daisy's resurrected self is not like her former quiet and loving personality. Now she revels in killing and torture, and Gatsby is hard-pressed to silence the locals who are missing pets and later, children. It all falls apart when Daisy targets the lover of her ex-husband, Tom Buchanan. In a frantic finale with a lightning storm, George Wilson tries to save his wife, but his pistol shots cannot stop Daisy. In the end, it is Daisy who kills Gatsby (perhaps by ripping his beating heart from his chest and holding it to the sky. The lightning, of course, finishes her off, but leaves poor Nick Carraway eating his own filth in a madhouse.) Now that's entertainment, folks!

Or you can have all that Jazz Age jazz with sleepy yawns, knowing things are only going to get worse when you try to read Tender Is the Night. The night is not tender. It's filled with insane killers and monsters and the wide, dark shadow of Horace Walpole and all things gothic. But not all is lost. There is always "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (and its Brad Pitt movie version), a kind of science fantasy for the gothically impaired. Better still, skip the Fitzgerald altogether and reach for one of Cornell Woolrich's "Black" novels instead. From there you can leapfrog into the sterling suspense novels of Fredric Brown, then rollover into his science fiction. Yes, there is hope. You avoid that early, unmarked grave known as "mainstream fiction." But you better hurry. Baz Luhrmann is eyeing up another version of Cop Rock.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Well, if Gatsby was a crime novel, it would reveal that Gatsby is a murder. If it was a SF novel it would reveal that he was an alien. Since, it is a mainstream novel it reveals he once got dumped. Which sums up why I generally prefer genre to mainstream.


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