Feb 13, 2008

Roy's Our Gatsby

Last night Roy’s hospitality was like coming home. No women, no children—just a house full of men and distilled spirits and food fit for kings. The Dungeness crab, pasta, and assorted sides were all we needed to feel as generously treated as Jay Gatsby’s guests. Had Roy turned the pool lights on, we might have jumped in and made for East Egg.

Roy, thank you for your hospitality and for the insider’s tour of your distillery, er, laboratory. Perhaps someday we’ll also see the armory. In the meantime, we’re content knowing that yours is the sanctuary we’ll retreat to next time the lights go off.

(But if our lights do go off, we know that Garth's won't. He was simply stunning in his electroluminescent smoking jacket. If only Roy had made good on his threat to wear pink last night. The two of them might have decamped to the Castro Theatre after our meeting.)

The Book
Our discussion of The Great Gatsby started off in two venues. At my table, there seemed to be some question about whether it deserved the recognition it’s received. Peter certainly didn’t think so, and Doug’s description of Fitzgerald’s troubled last years eking out a living in Hollywood wasn’t inspiring.

When our groups joined together, I asked if this book deserved its position in the pantheon of great American novels. The initial reaction was underwhelming, but the final tally produced a huge thumbs-up. With a 7.7 rating, TGG takes top honors to date.

Despite my encounter with Roy’s unadulterated gin, I remember a few of the sentiments from our run around the table. But I’m already confusing them with comments made during the Quiz Reveal that followed. So, here’s my selective mash-up:

Our two power engineers (Tom and Dean) used almost identical language to express their fondness for the book and its brevity, with Dean also noting that the characters’ unrealized ambitions find a parallel in the lives of middle aged men everywhere. (How dare you call us middle-aged, Dean!)

Roy, evidently addled by exposure to Red Line synthetic lubricants, couldn’t separate Jay Gatsby from Coleman Silk in The Human Stain. Terry, whose Harvard education omitted TGG, was dismayed to learn that motor oil now costs more than $1.98/qt.

Larry faulted Fitzgerald for elongating a short story into a novel. Indeed, he called it a “novella,” a term he picked up during those interminable PTA meetings in the school library. Peter, still suffering from either altitude sickness or ethnocentrism, felt that TGG was a disappointingly incomplete work. Garth rejected Fitzgerald’s "vacuous" caricature of the American Dream in favor of…yes…the version touted for Burning Man 2008!

Doug’s sympathy with the characters’ Midwest/East Coast perspectives was lost on us as we marveled at all of his hockey injuries, including the nicked carotid artery. Jeff (Andover) and George (Redwood), both participants in that most elite of sports (yes, I speak of the crew), opined on the class tensions in TGG. No irony there.

I forget the commentary from Stan and Armando, as I was more intrigued by their later references to waxing styles in Brazil and using Zig Zag papers as art media. Finally, Dan, even if you are worth only $49.95 to your wife, your empathy for the Wilson character is ours, too.

Next Up
Doug gave us three outstanding options. For fiction, he proposed Russo’s Nobody’s Fool. For non-fiction, he offered The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin. And in the history category, he proposed Ellis’ Founding Brothers. Our choice was surprisingly easy: we voted overwhelmingly for The Nine. So, as we explore the personalities sitting atop the least scrutinized branch of government, let’s thank Doug for steering us (temporarily) away from fiction.