F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" is blossoming with new editions following the expiration of the classic novel's copyright on Jan. 1.
Along with the numerous republications of the work published in 1925 - along with Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" - author Michael Farris Smith has published "Nick," a prequel exploring the life of narrator Nick Carraway before he moved next door to the eponymous Jay Gatsby's Long Island mansion.
"The Great Gatsby" details Gatsby's quixotic and tragic effort to win the love of the entitled Daisy Buchanan through an invented past and fraudulently obtained wealth. Carraway observes Gatsby's rise and fall, with witty and pointed commentary about Gatsby's lavish life and the other characters. He comes to see Gatsby as a heroic tragic hero, and Daisy and her repellent husband Tom as soul-less, materialistic monsters.
The novel's entering the public domain has also fostered reappraisals, including a recent piece by New York Times literary critic Parul Sehgal that questions whether the novel is really that great. Like other writers of his era, Fitzgerald has been criticized over his negative depictions of women and anti-semitic characterizations.
Similar to J.D. Salinger's "A Catcher in the Rye," Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" is praised for its distinctive first-person voice, rather than the complexity of its characters and plot.
A commercial failure when first published although praised by T.S. Eliot as a major advance in American fiction, "The Great Gatsby" can be read in one sitting. Fitzgerald's language, filtered through Carraway's observations, has a poetic precision in which every word matters.
The story of Gatsby's doomed love for Daisy Buchanan skewers the excesses of American capitalism in the "Roaring '20s," before the stock market crash that ushered in the Depression. Many of the passages, including the famous ending about "the dark fields of the republic," live on in the cultural memory.
New York Times critic Wesley Morris in an introduction to one of the new editions says rereading the book gave him a fresh appreciation of Fitzgerald's understanding of how Americans constantly reinvent themselves.
But I don't believe I'll return to "The Great Gatsby." The book glows in my memory, Fitzgerald's words forever bright.