Monthly Book Review

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Those BuzzFeed quizzes that tell you what decade you belong in? For me, it's always the '20s. The Roaring Twenties. The Jazz Age. It's unsurprising, really; I've always had a fascination with that time period. Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast is one of my favorite books, and Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite movies. But Fitzgerald's masterpiece? The Great Gatsby? I'd never read it. (Shameful, I know.) The copy I borrowed topped off at just over one hundred and fifty pages, so the book was an incredibly fast read. That said, it took me a couple of chapters to adjust to the language; it felt elevated after my previous reads. That said, I was still enraptured by it. It didn't take long for my heart to race with decadence and nostalgia. To anyone who doesn't know, The Great Gatsby is, as a summary states, "the story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted 'gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.'" On the surface, and maybe to younger readers, the book can seem romantic. However, the main themes are really much darker; they address shallowness, vapid idealism, social class, and resistance to change. In the sixth chapter, for instance, narrator Nick Carraway tells Gatsby that he can't repeat the past. "'Can't repeat the past?' [Gatsby] cried incredulously. 'Why, of course you can!' He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lucking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand. 'I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before,' he said, nodding determinedly." The Great Gatsby is chock-full of other quotable passages, and it's a book I plan to read again in the future. In the meantime, I'll be day-dreaming about the Jazz Age, about shiny cars, about lavish parties and Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful."

Had my book club not chosen Notorious 92 as this month's selection, I might never have tackled it. It was a book I had never heard of, but the subtitle, "the most infamous murder from each of Indiana's 92 counties," sounded morbidly intriguing. I recently had read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so I wasn't opposed to continuing my true crime trend. When it comes to Notorious 92, though, the book's writing is more academic than literary. The book is organized into chapters, with each of Indiana's ninety-two counties getting its own chapter. It starts with Adams County and ends with Whitley County, with nearly five hundred pages of betrayal, lies, death, and human darkness between. As the summary states, "this book delves into Indiana's dark side, illustrating that the murderous venom of today has been present in the state for a long time." True enough, I had heard of some of the crimes before even turning the pages of Notorious 92. Martin Scorsese's film Casino, for instance, portrays the double murder of two brothers beaten to death and buried in northwest Indiana. The book also includes the brutal killing of twelve-year-old Shanda Sharer, who died in 1992 at the hands of four teenage girls. (Her death attracted national attention, and also was used as a base for both Cold Case and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episodes.) Most of the crimes included in the book occurred in the 1900s, but there are a few from the mid-1800s as well (those are the most fascinating, to me). I wish there had been more creative non-fiction (think In Cold Blood), but I understand that the author's approach was more academic. That said, Notorious 92 started to feel a little formulated at about the halfway point, as each chapter included a small bit of background info, followed by an explanation of the crime and a summary of the trial. Given the book's layout and content, it makes for better "bathroom reading" than, for obvious reasons, "bedtime reading."

This book's style was strikingly similar to that of another book I read earlier in the year—The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars. It wasn't until after I finished this book, though, that I realized Paul Collins was the author of both. (Collins focuses on history, memoirs, and "unusual antiquarian literature." And lengthy subtitles, too, evidently.) Duel with the Devil recreates the murder of a young woman in New York City in 1800. Following the discovery of her body in a well, a trial was held for carpenter Levi Weeks. His lawyers? Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton--bitter rivals who were two of the city's finest lawyers. The book is developed from what Collins says is one of the first "trial transcripts" in American legal history. (Much of the dialogue that appears in the book was taken from the transcripts—or from the journals of those involved with the trial—and repeated, word for word.) As stated on Amazon, Duel with the Devil is "an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers." Since the United States was still a young republic, many of New York City's residents were associated with one another in some way. I learned, for instance, that the brother of Levi Weeks was an architect who had constructed a home for Alexander Hamilton. Furthermore, the well in which the young woman's body was discovered was owned by a company controlled by Aaron Burr. (Conflict of interest, anyone?) After Collins finishes writing about the murder and subsequent trial, he updates the reader about each of the book's "characters." It's unsurprising that Hamilton and Burr have a chapter devoted to their continued rivalry, one that led to a duel in 1804. It was a good read, really, one that left me wanting to read more about America's historical characters. And it also made me want to visit the location of the well (which exists, today, in the basement of a Manhattan restaurant).


  1. A very dark selection of books! I feel a bit ashamed for having only read Lindsey Kelk's I Heart series recently :p The Great Gatsby is my favourite book, the language is absolutely incredible and whilst typical of Fitzgerald's style, for me it completely reflects the decadence of the plot. Duel with the Devil sounds very interesting! xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua Italy

    1. I would agree; it was kind of dark, haha! I don't know why I have been on such a "true crime" kick, as of late. That said, I still want to read "The Devil in the White City," which is about a serial killer. I've heard it's quite a good read, though. I think "The Great Gatsby" is now one of my favorites! I hadn't read it before, but I loved Fitzgerald's language. It drew me in, right from the start. And I have heard of the "I Heart" series, but I have never read any of them. What do you think?


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