The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek
Summer 2008

Hats, like first husbands in my experience, are usually a mistake. But the invitation was specific. And demanding. A GATSBY party. Wear white. And below that, in imploring cursive: "Hats for the Ladies."

It's still unclear to me how hats were involved in Fitzgerald's story—only a few are mentioned in the novel—or, frankly, why any adult above the age of twenty would care to attend this sort of theme party. I'm also still not sure that this part of the story—how Miles Noble's first party at the house it took five years to design and build came to be themed around this book he'd once given my sister—was ever fully explained, but as Peck kept pointing out, I was a foreigner, so what the hell did I know?

Like many of her observations, this one wasn't entirely accurate. Peck, short for Pecksland—that's the sort of mother she has—is my half sister. We shared the same father, although he died when I was three and she was seven, after he'd left her mother for mine. I'm as American as she is, with the same navy blue passport. It's just that I never lived in the States and, according to her, I don't know anybody, or any of the sorts of people she would have liked me to know: American celebrities, fashion designers, New York socialites, people who could get a table at a place called the Waverly Inn, those sorts.

I didn't own any hats of the kind I imagined Daisy Buchanan might have worn, but on this, as on so many things, Peck was adamant. She not only insisted (read: begged, pleaded, and threatened to kick me out of the house) that I accompany her to Miles Noble's party, but also that I follow the oddly specific sartorial directions. She was often adamant, often about absurd things, but particularly about hats. On this, there'd been no room for argument. She hadn't seen Miles in seven years and she needed someone—me—by her side for this encounter.

I'd only been in Southampton for three days and I was in no mood for a party. Even one hosted, as Peck kept dramatically exclaiming, by the first and only man she'd ever loved. It was the Fourth of July, a holiday about which I'd always been reverent, but at that point in the summer I was still jaundiced and cynical, a divorced twenty-eight-year-old aspiring writer whose creative ambitions had led only to a dead-end job as a translator at a lifestyle magazine for tourists in Switzerland. And my only blood relative, aside from the half sister I hardly knew, had only been gone a couple of months. I was far more saddened by Lydia's death than I might have expected, especially as I hadn't seen my aunt in a few years. I was a weepy, confused mess and was finding it hard to be there, in her house, without her. So at first I politely declined Peck's invitation to join her.

But being polite and declining invitations do not agree with my glamorously eccentric half sister, and since I was at the very beginning of what was supposed to be a month of sisterly togetherness at the house we'd jointly inherited from Aunt Lydia, I reluctantly agreed to go with her. In the interest of getting along, I pulled the only dress I'd brought with me from my suitcase of jeans and T-shirts and borrowed a hat from the strange assortment Aunt Lydia had left in the house, unwisely choosing a drooing off-white bowler that made my head itch and kept falling over my eyes as Peck inexpertly maneuvered our aunt's ancient station wagon down the driveway.

"There's a situation," she announced as she pulled into the sun-dappled street, spraying gravel like she was commandeering a getaway car. This is a standard expression from Peck, who tends to speak in proclamations and for whom life is one long series of situations. A situation could be anything from the mysteriously locked safe in Aunt Lydia's closet that we had not been able to open to the guy wearing nothing but wet tighty-whitey BVDs we'd witnessed just that morning slowly pedaling his bicycle home from the beach. (Or the situation could be me.)

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