It is not normal for me to reread a book. I read a book, I savor it as I do so. I pick the next book from my stack. A claim that Benjamin Franklin would read a linear foot of books a week inspires me. I have no idea whether that claim is true or not– a quick bit of research found nothing to corroborate it. But that is not the point. The point, as I see it, states that there are so many books worth reading that rereading one might just be a waste of time. So, as a general rule, I don’t do it. I don’t reread books.
And like most self-made rules, I’ve broken this one on a number of occasions. My latest reading selection, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, stands as my most recent transgression. I remember reading this book in seventh grade– twenty-five years ago. I remember the parties. I remember the suicide. I remember the classroom discussion about the elements that appeared to be autobiographical. Several years later I remember attending the one-woman play, Zelda, by William Luce.
In the summer of 1930, F. Scott’s wife and archetypical flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald, suffered a mental breakdown, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was committed to a sanitarium. Luce’s play is set in a psychiatrist’s office in that sanitarium the night before Zelda died in a fire. She spent the last seventeen years of her life in that hospital. In Luce’s play, Zelda claims Scott placed her there not because she was crazy, but rather so that he could carry on his selfish, indulgent lifestyle without her interference. Zelda recalls how F. Scott Fitzgerald used their lives together as source material for his novels. She charges he stole her diaries: he included her private confessions in his own books. And she rejoins that her own novel, Save Me the Waltz, tells her side of their story– and displays her own talent.
Inspired by these works of art and psychology, I have, on occasion, introduced Whirl as my Zelda Fitzgerald. Given the treatment Zelda suffered, and the depiction in Luce’s play, my moniker may not seem particularly affectionate. I don’t mean it that way. I can be a melancholy boy. The conflict– even torment– of life and art fascinates me. Zelda Fitzgerald fascinates me in that I view her as personification of that conflict.
So twenty-five years later, I am returning to what is arguably the supreme achievement of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s career. To a time and place when the New York Times noted, “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.”