The first time I read “The Great Gatsby” I was neither a grownup nor was it during the summer. It was the final semester of Eighth Grade and it was the first classic novel that I read without it being on a school reading list. For that reason, I was able to love it. I didn’t have to discuss it to death or look for symbolism or look for its deeper commentary on the times. I could sit on the blacktop during recess, ignore my plebeian peers and escape into the decadence and decline of the Roaring 20s.
Therefore twelve summers later, while searching for a fun but good summer read for the beach, seeing a novel entitled, “The Summer We Read Gatsby” by Danielle Ganek seemed like a perfect way to recapture that feeling of my initial “Gatsby” discovery. Moreover it was about two sisters on vacation together, and I was preparing to travel with my own sister. As I’ve said before, sometimes you’re just meant to be reading certain books at certain times.
Upon reading the first page (which ultimately decides if I will even buy a book) I could tell that the author had worked excruciatingly hard to set a similar tone to the classic novel in the title. The glamour, conceit, and ridiculousness of the Hampton backdrop was captured immaculately. Pecksland (Peck) a curvy and vivacious New Yorker who plays at being an actress but aspires more to be in Vogue for her bizarrely glamorous fashion sense, is the half-sister of Stella, her polar opposite. For all of Peck’s curves and bubbly personality, Stella is tall, thin and cynical with a finely honed sense of pragmatism. The two have rendezvoused in the Hamptons upon inheriting their Aunt Lydia’s artist retreat home, “The Fool’s House.” Stella plans to sell the house they cannot afford while Peck’s sense of whimsy longs to keep it, and staunchly refuses to accept any alternative.
On Stella’s first night there, Peck drags her to a “Gatsby” party- all must wear white and hats, and it’s at the most lavish house in the Hamptons that also happens to be the home of her ex-lover. To Peck this is a grand adventure, and by throwing this themed party her ex is clearly sending her the message that he wants her back after all these years, after all they fell in love over their mutual obsession of “The Great Gatsby”. It’s a classic superficial affair- both the over the top soiree and the relationship between Peck and Miles (the now paunch-bellied former Jim Morrison look-a-like richie-rich). Everything is over dramatic, overly indulgent, and completely devoid of the real world- much the same as the world Nick found himself in the “The Great Gatsby.”
Stella grew up and lives in Switzerland and is incapable of understanding the Hampton lifestyle. How there’s a party every night that doesn’t even require invitations- everyone who is anyone knows when and where they will be held because things have always been done this way. Money equally doesn’t matter and yet it’s the only thing that does- you simply have it or you do everything you can to make people think that you do. It’s difficult for Stella, reserved and recovering at 28 from her divorce from that “No-Good- Jean Paul” to embrace the lifestyle, and even more so, her half-sister.
The relationship, between Peck and Stella, is perhaps the greatest strength of the novel. More than the stylistic parallels to Fitzgerald, the commentary on pre-recession America, or the ridiculous pseudo-mystery running through the background- “The Summer We Read Gatsby” is about two sisters finding each other. Stella learns to let go, to love others and not look and expect the worst in everyone. Peck’s bubbly nature and benefits from the reality dose that Stella provides, and throughout the summer she learns that sometimes you have to settle for less than the idealized perfection, but that doesn’t make it any less perfect for you. The two, in a nutshell, become sisters, they learn who their beloved Aunt Lydia was by living in her house, and they learn who they can be when they have the right people standing behind them.
Ganek paid a wonderful tribute to what has to be one of her favorite books, both in style and its constant discussion/reference throughout. Peck and Stella’s love of “Gatsby” reminded me of my own, and has made me want to revisit the old favorite. It was a great meld of a quick summer read without being brain fluff- it has its own literary merits, and if you read it for either or both, you won’t be disappointed.
So after you see “The Great Gatsby” next week, and find yourself nostalgic for the Jazz Age, pick up a copy (yes go to a bookstore and buy it, summer reads just aren’t the same read on a screen), and dive in to imagine the luxury of inheriting your own house in the Hamptons and hosting a White Party every weekend.
[three_fourth_last]This review was originally posted on WhatchYAReading. [/three_fourth_last]
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