sensibilities of those East Eggers

p. 31:

Tom deferred that much to the sensibilities of those East Eggers who might be on the train.

This describes the practice of Tom’s mistress sitting discreetly in another car while they take the train together into New York, despite their frequenting of popular restaurants in the city, where he would leave her at the table and saunter about chatting with whomsoever he knew.

Once I took the train from West to East Berlin, not long after the Berlin Wall fell with the end of Soviet Communism. Getting on the train in West Berlin, I noticed a young couple, a bland German youth and his girlfriend, a dark Arabic girl. They stood with arms about each other as the journey started, frequently leaning in to exercise their new love in a kiss, but their public affection became more and more subtle as we headed East. Finally, by the time we crossed over into the formerly Communist, and still very conservative, part of the city, they stood at opposite ends of the train car, connected only by their longing glances into each others eyes.

Terribly romantic and quite unlike Tom and Myrtle, but that’s what I think of each time I read this passage; the burden of deferring passion for the sensibilities of others.

because of this

p. 28:

There is always a halt there of at least a minute and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan’s mistress.

For some reason the routine pause turns chance into inevitability – there’s something I always liked about this. Reminds me of one of the persistent themes of Paul Auster‘s writings, that life is formed by chance, and in a sense chance is the illusory veil of fate.

his peremptory heart

p. 25:

Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.

Possibly one of my favorite phrases in the entire novel – his peremptory heart – hearkens back to one of my favorite poems, surely one that Fitzgerald admired as well:  Ozymandias, the king of kings whose boast of immortality was carved on the rubble strewn beside the sands of his former kingdom, also had a “heart that fed” – insatiable, demanding, dictatorial heart.

This same page contains a flurry of beautiful phrases, as Fitzgerald cruises to the end of the chapter like a commanding boxer ending a round with a hail of lovely glovework.  It’s possible though perhaps overreaching to find the reference to Ozymandias and see that Fitzgerald himself is the king of kings, littering the page with the jewels of his talent, destined to become forgotten and lost in the sands of time.

moving a checker to another square

p. 16:

wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square.

This captures exactly the feeling of being maneuvered from room to room by an overbearing, physically intimidating host. Your individuality, your humanity even gets a little lost, you aren’t there for your own ends but as a piece in a larger game of another’s design. And of course the game is checkers, not chess, given Tom’s limited mental faculties. Er, not that I’m saying checkers is for dummies, but still – all checkers pieces only move forward until they reach the end.

Also on this page I find memorable charm in Daisy’s simplistic babble: ‘Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it.’ Yeah, me too, hon, me too.