Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Well, it's what we call overkill.

Current book: The Beautiful and Damned
Pages read: 261-449 (end)

Quality time with the elliptical again has resulted in finishing Fitzgerald off completely. I can't say I'm sorry. One of these days I'm going to read a book that I like, and that'll be awesome. (Well, there was Main Street, but it'd be nice if I not only liked it, but it was also uplifting. Great literature doesn't seem to be too good at uplifting.)

Sadly, nothing really comes of Gloria declaring that she can't stand the country house anymore. Instead, they keep having drunken parties there, wasting their time and money, until Anthony's rich prohibitionist grandfather drops in one evening and finds them in flagrante delicto. (I kind of just put that in there because every time I read or hear that phrase I picture Tim Curry saying it in Clue, and it makes me laugh. I'm not sorry.) As a result, Anthony's cut out of the old man's will, and he dies apace, leaving Anthony and Gloria to engage in a protracted court battle to get some of the money. Simultaneously, Gloria starts a sort of campaign of nagging Anthony to get a job, and he makes some attempts, but fails miserably and often embarrassingly. (Particularly at the pyramid scheme salesman job. That was cringe-inducing.)

After another period of watching them bicker and spend too much money, World War I starts and Anthony gets drafted and heads out to a training camp, leaving Gloria behind in New York. While at the camp, Anthony has an affair with a thoroughly annoying local girl who falls desperately in love with him. Gloria doesn't get up to much, but remains faithful. Anthony ends up coming back to New York right before the Armistice and abandoning the local girl completely. He never goes overseas because the war ends before he gets the chance, so he returns to Gloria and the two of them continue their bickering and spending too much money. It's good fun for everybody. (I swear that I'm not leaving anything of import out, here, regardless of the fact that it was nearly 200 pages.)

Eventually Anthony becomes a raging alcoholic (during Prohibition - oh, the irony!) and all of their friends cut off ties to the impoverished, pathetic couple. On the day the court case over Anthony's grandfather's will is to be settled, the local girl Anthony was toying with shows up at the door and begs him to take her back. He very nearly kills her with a blunt object, but instead of following through with the murder (Which I was kind of rooting for, I have to say. She was really annoying.) has some sort of mental breakdown. They win the court case, as it turns out, and are fabulously wealthy, but the book's final scene shows us Anthony muttering madly to himself on the deck of a cruise ship, convinced that he was right all along to wait for his inheritance and unrepentant about his life of ridiculous, wasteful debauchery.

Cheery, huh? I've got to say that I was really getting sick of Fitzgerald's nonsense by the end of this novel. As I said before, it wasn't too hard to get through the prose, simply because of the fact that F. Scott's pretty good at pacing things, but he suffered from the same problem as both Updike and Rushdie did, in a way: I got the point 150 pages in, and everything else seemed superfluous. When you're illustrating the opinion that the human condition is one of despair and bleakness, and that there's an inexorable leaching of beauty and grandeur that occurs with age and disillusionment, you don't really need 500 pages to do it. I guess you could make the argument that by extending these narratives, their authors are emphasizing the point through the ennui they're causing their readers, but as one of those readers, I'd rather they left my ennui out of it. In the end, I felt like this book was almost exactly the same as Gatsby - bored rich people are miserable and bad things happen to them, generally because they're both indolent and so focused on money that they can't see past it to what's actually important. Blech.

Also, I still don't get the point of the weird sections that are written as dramatic scenes or the Japanese servant. I was trying to give Fitzgerald some credit for those, but I've been forced to conclude that they're distracting and unnecessary.

Tomorrow I get to start Kim, and I'm way excited. Yes, it will probably be hideously colonialist, but it's also a classic adventure story that I actually had to check out from the kids' section! Yay!

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