The ‘Great Gatsby’ Glut

Struck by just how little the reader comes to know about Carraway, Smith remembers thinking, “It would be really interesting if someone were to write his story.” He immediately set out to do that, writing the novel five years ago, not telling his editor or agent.

“I didn’t want to hear it was impossible,” Smith said. “I just knew I was emotionally invested in it and I wanted to do it. I didn’t even think about the copyright issue, to be honest. I just assumed it was expired.”

It wasn’t. And while it was set to expire this year, Smith knew it was potentially subject to further changes in the law. “I’ve sat here every year thinking, ‘Is the copyright going to change?’ I didn’t know if it would be five years, 10 years, 20 years, whatever,” he said.

Often cited as a — if not the — great American novel, the new editions of “Gatsby” allow for fresh analysis, nearly a century later, of what our ideas of “American” now entail. Morris, who received the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2012, parses the book’s themes using references to blackface, industrialization, “capitalism as an emotion,” silent films, reality television and, uniting these strands, what it means to “perform versions of oneself.” (Morris writes, “Fitzgerald had captured that change in the American character: Merely being oneself wouldn’t suffice.”)

Lee, a National Book Award finalist who moved to the United States from South Korea when she was 7, described herself as someone who’s “always approached books as a way to learn more about America.” Because of her formative experiences, “I always identify with the marginal people,” she said. “That’s the way I can immediately understand where I would be. When I read about Myrtle, I can totally see her.”

To her mind, the book’s cleareyed view of money and class is still a rarity. “We can talk about race all day and night in the 21st century,” Lee said, “but not money.”

As a young reader relatively new to the United States, she did read the book as a cautionary tale, but mostly about trusting and falling in love with the wrong people. “I didn’t think of it as ‘The American dream isn’t true,’” she said. “I just thought, ‘Don’t be like Gatsby.’”

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