Tuesday, September 22, 2009

" 'Good Old Kerry' and All That Rot": Top Seven Favorite Fitzgerald Characters

To fit with the Fitzgerald theme, this week's list is all about my favorite Fitzgerald characters. Fitzgerald is responsible for creating some iconic American characters (Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, Monroe Stahr, etc.), but he also gives life to charming secondary characters and over-earnest narrators as well. In this list, I will present my favorite Fitzgerald characters, the people with whom I'd love to party on someone's sloping green lawn. They're not necessarily his most complex or necessary creations, but they are all awesome in their own ways.

1. Kerry Holiday, from This Side of Paradise: Here's where this entry's title comes from. Kerry plays a very small role in this book as protagonist Amory Blaine's best friend at Princeton. The gray-eyed, humorous Kerry easily makes friends (all though its his "goodness" that keeps him from getting girls), but he is doomed from the very beginning. He only gets a handful of scenes and he's dead less than halfway through the book, but Kerry makes an impact on a lovelorn reader like myself. And he just so happens to be one of my biggest literary crushes.

2. Tom D'Invilliers, from This Side of Pardise: Tom is Amory's other best friend, and unlike Kerry, he actually gets to live through the entirety of the book. Tom's a lovesick, melodramatic poet when Amory first meets him, but by the end of the book, he's become a bit of a literary sell-out, more cynical and worldly than we ever could have imagined him at the novel's start. In my opinion, his character arc is as important as Amory's. And best of all, Tom is the author of the poem Fitzgerald quotes in the epigraph to The Great Gatsby. It's hilarious how often people mistake that poem and poet for reality.

3. Jordan Baker, from The Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald's most famous novel has an impressively small cast of characters, and Jordan originally appears to be one of the least important. This female professional golfer isn't necessarily likeable - she's rumored to be a cheater, she's surprisingly cynical, and the fact that she's friends with Daisy doesn't do her any favors. But damn if I don't like her spunk! And even more importantly, her doomed relationship with narrator Nick Carraway reveals the levels of disillusionment both characters experience in the face of Gatsby and the Buchanans' wealth. I think Jordan and Nick's break-up scenes is one of Fitzgerald's most poignant, and you can expect to see it quoted here later this week.

4. Cecelia Brady, from The Last Tycoon: It's a little hard to include a character whose book isn't even finished (Fitzgerald died less than halfway through), but I really like Cecelia. She sees everything as the narrator of Tycoon, carefully watching the rise of movie producer Monroe Stahr, and witnessing the obvious trap her father, another rich and successful producer, is clearly planning for him. In some of his notes for the novel, Fitzgerald maps out a tragic path for Cecelia that is even sadder in the wake of the book being left undone. Plus, Cecelia is a huge departure for Fitzgerald: a female narrator.

5. Burne Holiday, from This Side of Paradise: That's right. Another Holiday. Burne is Kerry's brother, and one of the few extremely rebellious Fitzgerald characters. A hard-core socialist, Burne starts some big trouble at Princeton and makes a very interesting foil to the laidback politics of students like Amory, who are more interested in the social aspects of education. Later in the novel, we find out that Burne has been missing for years after school, having possibly gone underground as a communist. You can't help but feel bad for the poor Holiday parents: one son killed in war and another missing on purpose. That is a 20th century tragedy.

6. Nick Carraway, from The Great Gatsby: Nick always makes me ridiculously sad. His disillusionment at the end of the book always strikes me as 20 times more tragic than Gatsby's extravagant life and death. He's just an over-eager Midwestern boy who thinks he finds friends and social stature and even a girlfriend on the East Coast, only to end up going back home damaged and alone. Nick is also a perfect narrator, seeing everything and affected by everything. A great creation that never gets enough credit.

7. Charlie Wales, from "Babylon Revisited": Charlie is hands-down Gatsby's most depressing (yet deserving of redemption) character. A recovering alcoholic and widow, Charlie goes to Paris to talk his in-laws into giving him custody of his daughter again. Charlie wanders lost around a city where he used to be king, now wanting nothing but his family back. This is considered Fitzgerald's best and most famous story, and it's a wholly deserved mantle. Charlie and his tale are absolutely devastating.

Happy Reading, everyone, and enjoy the rest of Fitzgerald Week!

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