By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Imagine it: 1922, and young Scott Fitzgerald, fresh off a run of short stories, is writing a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, about a book he has in mind, "something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned." I came across that statement at a time when I had a pile of story-parts on my hands, a few chapters and lots of notes about a boy and a dog and a farm, but I was struggling to see how they might someday coalesce into a novel. Fitzgerald's declaration of intent, and especially the idea of "pattern", set me on a quest to understand what kind of storytelling glue holds novels together. What is it that makes readers experience a 300 page story as a single narrative instead of many fragments? I'd never been especially crazy about Gatsby
, thinking it was about a gang of spoiled rich people, but I went after it anyway with a scalpel and a magnifying glass, trying to locate the "intricate pattern" Fitzgerald had been talking about. In the process I gained an entirely new respect for this book. Beyond its tour de force prose, beyond the flashy parties and the lost-love plotline that occupies the foreground, Gatsby is a story about a flight from, and a return to, the Midwest—and about a man discovering his conscience.