Review: The Summer We Read Gatsby, by Danielle Ganek
Can’t repeat the past?
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Since I came back to Miami it felt like Summer all over again, perhaps even more intensely. This has been the first Summer—in like, forever—that I didn’t get to spend time at the beach or go out on Sea but had an urban one in Barcelona. It was great not having to drive and instead walk everywhere—it was not too hot either—in fact, it was what I needed exactly.
But now that the weather here is divine, cool and dry, windy and cloudy, raining on and off, it finally feels like Fall is here, which reminds me of one of the books I read this Summer: Danielle Ganek’s The Summer We Read Gatsby.
The book was in my list of books to read in the Summer because I’d read, just like anybody in the art world has, Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, Ganek’s debut novel about the New York Art Gallery Scene, hence was looking forward to finally reading her second book. The title screamed “Summer Read”, and lastly and more importantly, it had “Gatsby” in the title.
Now, I love everything to do with Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. It is sad and deep, and stays with you, and in fact is a short novel, full of symbolism of course which I love. So I downloaded Ganek’s The Summer We Read Gatsby after reading the brief description and couldn’t wait to get started.
Ganek’s book is about two half-sisters meeting once again in the Southampton home of their Aunt after her passing to execute her will. The book has many Gatsby references and just like The Great Gatsby itself, takes place throughout the Summer. There are Summer parties, an encounter with a nouveau-riche boyfriend from youth who in fact was the one who first gave one of the characters her copy of The Great Gatsby, and now throws a Gatsby themed party. In the meantime, the sisters realize a painting which goes missing might perhaps be a Jackson Pollock; so there’s a bit of a Summer mystery there too.
In addition to a mix of Gatsby themes and references, the book also reminded me of Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters, with less depth, less substance of course and much less effect. Interestingly though, just like Ganek’s first book Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him introduced us to the derogatory word Gallerina—which unbelievably enough I do continue to hear once in a while from men from the periphery of the art world who want to mock self-directed ambition in a young woman—this one also introduced specific words: like a Fashionina, who “is more elegant than a Fashionista: A Fashionina knows about taste and style, whereas a Fashionista is all about trends”. In yet another party scene, she uses the term “faux-cialite”, which is kind of smart actually, and then “social magicians”, for people who “show up places, mostly at the parties where you have to buy a ticket. Then they can say, I was at so-and-so’s house or I had dinner with so-and-so. And they create the illusion that they’re social”. The Summer We Read Gatsby was written in 2010 and since it was just this Summer that I read about these definitions for the first time I figure they haven’t taken hold.
History don’t repeat itself, it rhymes*
-- Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, $100 Bill
One other thing that bothered me in the book was about the mystery the sisters tried to solve. Now, before I had downloaded the book the description already had given the info out that the sisters do try to prove whether the Aunt’s painting is a Jackson Pollock or not, so when you start reading the book with that knowledge already and then you’re almost halfway the book and the sisters have not yet suspected that it might be a Pollock, it kind of drives you crazy. After they finally do, it is a relief frankly.
Also missing is the theme loss of the American Dream, the Green Light; if you are to write about The Great Gatsby so much and include it in your title too, where are the Flappers? (and hasn’t Ganek learned enough that you have to have options in paramours for any book to be interesting?) There is no car crash like the one that called killed Myrtle, no murder of Gatsby whose blood leaves “a thin red circle” in his pool, and certainly no suicide as in Wilson’s. I’d say it’s all a bad intent at appropriation.
The Green Light
Photo: The Great Gatsby
Additionally, I do expect some sex, or some type of sensual connection, in anything that has to do with love anyway, and there was none; instead Ganek gives us a man who initially doesn’t want to sleep with our heroine, and you go like, really? (At this point in the book, I frankly thought he had an impotency issue like Hemingway’s Jake Barnes.)
The sisters talk about Jackson Pollock and how in fact the artist lived close by and how he died in a car crash in the Summer of 1956 in East Hampton. Pollock, who much like all the characters in The Great Gatsby was originally from the West and later established himself in New York, is known for his work in the ‘drip’ method which was in fact controlled and calculated. And this is all known to us thanks to photographer Hans Namuth, who approached Pollock to photograph him in the process of painting. At the urging of his wife artist Lee Krasner, who rightfully understood it would bolster his career, Pollock accepted. Namuth not only took hundreds of photographs of the artist but also had him paint on a big glass sheet while filming from underneath it.
Jackson Pollock Painting, with Lee Krasner watching
Photo: Hans Namuth
It is said that the cold in the barn, and the outside, as well as Namuth’s interruptions of his process to film numerous times, sort of taking the mystique away, eventually led Pollock to have a drink after years of being sober, getting into a fight with Namuth, never to talk to him again. He never stopped drinking. Almost six years later, in the Summer of 1956, Pollock died in a car accident in East Hampton in what many call to be an alcohol induced suicide. He was still upset at Namuth. Curiously photographer Hans Namuth himself, died at a car crash in the Fall of 1990, in East Hampton, very close to where Pollock had died.
The Ritz in Paris is also mentioned in the book many times. In fact, it claims the Bloody Mary was invented in its bar for Ernest Hemingway because his then-wife Mary “didn’t like him to drink so the bartender invented … ‘the odorless cocktail. He drank it and the next day, when the bartender asked him how it went, he said, ‘Bloody Mary never smelt a thing.’” The nouveau-riche boyfriend of one of the sisters, the supposedly modern day Gatsby, takes the sisters to stay at the Ritz. I have never stayed at the Ritz, but in my younger and more vulnerable years when I traveled to Paris often spent many afternoons and evenings at the Ritz' Bar Hemingway and had long conversations about the “Lost Generation”, a term coined by Gertrude Stein which Ernest Hemingway, her protégé made famous. It was at this point in time in the Summer that I saw the pictures of the new Ritz Paris which re-opened after a $450 million, four-year renovation. Featuring the cast of the TV series Versailles in period costume the new Ritz looked magnificent on the pages of Vogue. I wondered what had become of the Fitzgerald Suite one of the sisters stay at. Turns out it is still there to stay at, together with the many other suites.
The Past and the Future Merge to Meet Us Here
Overall, about the book, I would say I loved the effect it had on me, which is, that it led me to read Scott F. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite books, again. And because Fitzgerald was inspired by Satyricon’s Trimalchio, I read that too. Then I watched the 1974 film The Great Gatsby written by Francis Ford Coppola, with Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, and Mia Farrow as a very convincing Daisy Buchanan, especially when recounting the time she was told the child she had just given birth to was a girl, had said, “’Alright’, and continued “'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool – that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'", words which were in reality uttered by Zelda Fitzgerald upon the birth of her daughter with her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald, which he subsequently used in the novel. And then also watched Baz Luhrman’s brilliant interpretation of The Great Gatsby with excellent portrayals of all characters by all actors and excellent set décor, design, costume and of course the music! I listened to the touching, moving, haunting album of the soundtrack created by Jay Z over and over, whenever Joe took breaks from listening and watching Beyoncé’s Lemonade over and over. Because I had survived what could have been a fatal car crash before the Summer started and was deeply traumatized, listening to music with thoughtful lyrics and powerful visuals put me in a whole other mood that I ended up reading other Fitzgerald novels, and then, being in Spain, of course I ended up reading a lot of Hemingway too.
Then I heard the news that the Four Seasons Restaurant at the Seagram Building in New York, was closing. Now in the book, one of the sisters starts a relationship with an architect—the one who initially wouldn’t sleep with her, and this will be the last I will say anything else about the book—who talks about the Seagram Building designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson—who had founded the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art—and the Four Seasons Restaurant made up of the Grill Room for its famed power lunches, and the Pool Room with its trees with changing seasons. It was fantastic to read about it in the book, reminisce the beautiful lunches my friend Ayse took me there for lunch, and was deeply saddened about its closing.
While all this was happening I also got to see Beyoncé in her Formation tour which was the best concert I’d been to ever! Somehow she transformed it even to a higher level at the VMAs.
Photo: MTV Music Video Awards 2016
And then came the time to go London for Frieze. On the flight over I did what I always do on my transatlantic flights: drink Bloody Mary’s, because I don’t like to eat while flying in any type of aircraft or class of service, and Bloody Mary’s are deliciously filling, and have vodka of course. I usually never watch a film but came upon Genius, about novelist Thomas Wolfe and his publisher Max Perkins who also was the publisher for Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and their characters do make short appearances in the film. It is fascinating how writing comes to some easily and not to others.
London, then: walking in the cool weather, going from Frieze to museums and galleries with Mina and friends was fun and ended with a solitary visit to the Tate Modern. And like I always, no visit to the Tate Modern is complete without a visit to the Rothko Room. I make sure there is enough time to stop there, sit down. It is a meditative, contemplative area for me, and surely I always end up staying there more than I plan for.
This time the place felt dimmer, I think the walls are darker now, and as I am leaving my eyes turn to the wall text, and reading, I say, “My goodness! How did I forget?” It’s almost criminal I forgot—I even own a DVD about the documentary about these murals by Mark Rothko—a total of 9 of them here, which were originally commissioned to Rothko for the Four Seasons Restaurant at the Seagram Building!
But Rothko, after a visit to the Four Seasons with his wife Mell, decided not to give them as he wanted these murals to be more spiritual in effect, and elicit an emotional response from viewers. He later decided to give them to the Tate Modern where they would be displayed in a section all together. They are all large, like a “portal, a door to enter through”, and large so that they each create an “intimacy” which somehow reminds me of Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby who says “I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy”. Well, to me, these murals are very intimate, and do put me in a meditative state.
Incidentally, the Rothko murals arrived at the Tate Modern on the very same day in February 1970 when the artist was found in a pool of his blood in his studio, having committed suicide.
Borne back Ceaselessly
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Fall. The weather is cool now. And it is darker. Both literally and figuratively. The air is somber. The whole world worries and this writing is quite morbid too. And my thoughts go to Jordan Baker, one of my all-time favorite fictional female characters, who says “'Don't be morbid,'…'Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall.'” And I say, “yeah, I’ll take that”. Besides, I will go with any woman albeit imperfect, over any man who gets away with anything anyway, any time.
* Originally attributed to Mark Twain.