There are some good lines in Danielle Ganek’s chick lit paperback, The Summer We Read Gatsby (Plume), including the Jane Austen-like opening: “Hats, like first husbands in my experience, are usually a mistake.” There are also some entertaining romps around Our Towns, mainly Southampton. And for sure, there’s the promise inherent in the title – that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel is going to figure in the plot or theme. Indeed, the Bridgehampton bash that gets events going – parvenu Miles Noble’s over-the-top Fourth of July McMansion party – is Gatsby themed. Gatsby is the favorite novel of the first-person narrator, the beautiful, sensible, divorced, just-in-from-Switzerland 28-year-old Stella Blue Cassandra Olivia Moriarty (Yes, luvvies, that’s “Stella Blue” from the Jerry Garcia song). The novel is also said to be a favorite of Cassie’s “glamorously eccentric” half-sister and Miles’ former lover, 32-year-old Peckland (Peck) Moriarty, she of the proclamation: “A literary fetish is the new black.” [expand]
It’s the summer of 2008 and what better novel than Gatsby could so qualify for modish imitation, even though the summer “we” read it was 2001 and, as it turns out, some of the “we” who said they did, didn’t. Cassie, who speaks “fluent sarcasm,” and Peck, who emotes, haven’t seen each other in seven years, but their beloved Aunt Lydia died and left them her Hamptons cottage, Fool’s House, with instructions to sell (Cassie wants to, Peck does not). They also have to stay a month and “seek a thing of utmost value.” Not incidentally, Lydia, who had taught English, loved Gatsby, and it’s rumored that a first edition with dust jacket might be around somewhere. What’s the connection, though, between Fool’s House, named for Jasper Johns’ 1962 grey-based oil painting, “Fool’s House,” and Gatsby, where the predominant color is white? Got me, babes. On the other hand, Peck’s got a pooch by the name of Trimalchio, which Fitzgerald fans may recall, was the title of an early version of The Great Gatsby – Trimalchio in West Egg.
The mystery about the “thing of utmost value” augments the book’s status as comedy of manners-cum-romance. Could the answer lie in Lydia’s safe, the combination to which eludes the sisters until smart cookie Cassie intuits that it must be the numbers of Fitzgerald’s birthday? Stay tuned, but time out for the Fool’s House official season opener – a big catered affair that goes off well but not without an odd complication. During the party, someone has made off with the painting Lydia had hanging over the Fool’s House mantle, one that had on its reverse, “To L.M. from J.P. OMG! J.P? The Pollock-Krasner House in Springs is just a couple of villages away. Could J.P. be…Jackson Pollock? (Ganek, who did her art homework, nonetheless made some gaffes here.)
Though The Summer We Read Gatsby begins with promise, it starts to drag and doesn’t affect a credible resolution. The good stuff is the smattering of smart-ass dialogue between the estranged sisters and the frequent references to familiar Hamptons places (did Sip `n Soda in Southampton underwrite the book?) Plot, alas, is not a strong suit, nor is character development. Lydia liked to keep “fools” – entertaining artists-in-residence – at Fool’s House, but what to make of the bizarre current artist-fool, the extraordinarily handsome but criminally inclined Biggsy, who’s been hanging around since forever? Or Finn (tall, a Princeton grad, employed), an old family friend with whom Cassie falls in love? All the characters, including the principals, stick pretty close to stock-figure formulas.
Still, because of the season and the setting, The Summer We Read Gatsby may find itself a beach read among the 20- and 30-somethings. Like the best of “Sex and City,” when the story line works, it manages an engaging ambivalence – sending up affectation at the same time that it makes it attractive. What food! What drinks! What clothing! What the book doesn’t manage to do is be in any way like Gatsby. [/expand]