a short affair

p. 61:

I even had a short affair with a girl who lived in Jersey City and worked in the accounting department but her brother began throwing mean looks in my direction so when she went on her vacation in July I let it blow quietly away.

Nick reveals a lot about himself by how little he explains about his life outside his own definition of the story.  On this page, he’s trying to convince us that his summer in New York wasn’t dominated by all things Gatsby.  A short “affair” (whatever that means, in his day) might be cause for several pages or even a chapter in a more conventional account of Nick’s life.  But this sentence is all he says about the girl, because he isn’t here to tell you about himself, the ostensible story is supposed to belong to Gatsby.

But I’m curious.  Just what does an affair mean to Nick?  What sense of honor or cowardice allows a “mean look” to alter his pleasurable pursuits, whether frivolous or serious?  Is the description “blow quietly away” an accurate account from the perspective of our Jersey girl?

None of this gets any exploration.  Instead, later down the page Nick devotes a substantial narrative to an aimless fantasy of following a romantic woman in his mind’s eye.  She’s a New Yorker – he begins his account with a statement familiar to all transplants to the big city:  ‘I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye.

As he goes on to imagine what it would be like to spot a woman in the crowd on Fifth Avenue and follow her home for nothing more than a smile, we realize that this romantic fantasy captures the essence of what he wants but didn’t get from Ms. Jersey City.  He gave the real “girl” a cursory sentence, and devoted a fulsome paragraph to a fantasy woman – and in that contrast told us more about himself with omission than he could have with description.

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