so drunk

p. 66:

Snell was there three days before he went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mrs. Ulysses Swett’s automobile ran over his right hand.

We are in the midst of two full pages in which Fitzgerald does nothing but reel off the guest list for Gatsby’s summer parties.  The first few times I read the novel, I barely skimmed these pages, not understanding the impact Fitzgerald was delivering with the sheer volume and baroque detail of the list.  Sprinkled throughout the fanciful names, there are these phrases that contain whole worlds, stories within stories, mysteries, comedies and crimes.  Why would a man’s hair turn “cotton-white one winter afternoon for no good reason at all“?  A man came “only once, in white knickerbockers, and had a fight with a bum named Etty in the garden” – did he come just to fight? What was a bum doing at this fancy estate party? How does it feel to have a brother so notorious that you can only be referenced as “brother to that Muldoon who afterwards strangled his wife“?

But of course, my featured one-sentence story here involves jail, drunkenness, and maiming.  There is something very subtle here that shows Fitzgerald knows about passing out drunk:  writers without experience in this matter would describe what the man was doing just before he passed out.  Fitzgerald, being an unrepentant drunk himself, knew that a drunk never knows what he was doing in those moments.  He only knows the next day about the consequences, and only knows that because he was told by witnesses who are only barely more reliable than himself.

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