all the afternoon

p. 41:

Taking out my handkerchief I wiped from his cheek the remains of the spot of dried lather that had worried me all the afternoon.

An odd choice from this page, but one that is deeper than it seems.  When Mr. McKee is introduced at the start of the party, almost the first detail Nick notices is that the hurried little man has a dab of shaving cream straggling on his cheekbone.  That’s the kind of note that lends an air of authentic observation to the introduction of a new character in a scene, a nice little authorly touch.  But coming back to this hours and pages later is more than a little bit of genius.  It makes all the previous hours and pages that much more real, that the shaving cream really is there, Nick really did notice it, and it bothered him the whole time even though it wasn’t mentioned between the introduction and the point where Nick reaches out to touch a sleeping man’s face.  It shows Nick’s eye for detail and his compulsive need to tidy up the image and reality in the lives of others.  So with this one innocuous sentence, Fitzgerald adds verisimilitude to the party and depth to the characterization of his wonderfully unreliable narrator.

There are flashier sentences on this page, more vibrant description of that hazy party:  ‘People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.’ That’s a party I’ve been to before, and never felt too great about the next day.  And of course there’s the climactic close of the festivities when ‘Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.’ That’ll send ’em home all right.

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