Friday, October 21, 2005

Boats Against the Current

Sometimes it sure seems like I'm living in a Philip K. Dick novel.

If anyone had asked me a week ago whether I had ever read "The Great Gatsby," I would have unhesitatingly answered in the affirmative. Sure, sure -- Nick, Daisy, Tom, Jay, Long Island, American Dream, the optometrist's sign, the garage owner with the gun, boats against the current borne ceaselessly into the past. I know the drill. I definitely had to read Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night" in high school, but I remember reading "Gatsby" on my own initiative during college, probably during a summer vacation when I was working horrible hours for the U.S. Postal Service.

So why, as I read "Gatsby" this week, did it seem familar in outline but completely new in most of its particulars? Granted, it has to have 25 years since I last picked it up, but shouldn't I have recognized more from it -- Owl-Eyes, James Gatz's befuddled father, the queasy depiction of the Jewish gangster? Why did the novel seem like a completely fresh reading experience?

Have I been fooling myself all these years and never read more of "Gatsby" than the Mad Magazine parody of the ill-fated movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow? What other books am I deluded about?

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