The Jim and Nick Hour – The Beat Goes On

Two novels, both alike in acclaim, have been stricken from the list.
From fair Nebraska, where we make our first scene
To East and West Egg, where we lay our second
50 years do create
Two worlds that will never meet.

Enough with the Shakespeare rip off. I started my reading activities with two very different works, My Antonia and The Great Gatsby. Strangely enough, I found a common thread where no common thread would be.

I expect this is a tribute to my insightful literary mind.

You can stop laughing now.

My Antonia follows the life and career of Jim, the peripheral narrator of a story of Scandinavian pioneering. Forget Little House on the Prairie. I have spent numerous years of my life revisiting the Ingalls family and wondering what gaps the little houses hid. Well, My Antonia puts some reality in those gaps. While the Ingalls family genteelly starved during The Long Winter, the characters in My Antonia actively took steps to avoid starving. The reality of prairie life – and the types of people who came to the west, is far more gritty and grimy. Jim, orphaned and sent away, meets former desperadoes, murderous and shamed Russians, hearty girls who take jobs in hotels and laundries, and a very sad violinist longing for the old country. The fortunes and misfortunes of this cast of characters are carefully and sympathetically observed through thoughtful narration that does include precious gems of phrasing.” Snow – like feathers shaken from a pillow –” what a beautiful metaphor to blanket a very harsh and unforgiving reality.

The Great Gatsby – another peripheral narrator, swept up in the grandest of the grand. Nick Carraway, seeking his fortune in the bond industry, moves in next door to a mythological character. This character created the myth in his own mind and, like all good myths, there is the clash of Titans. Like Jim in My Antonia, Nick watches with sympathetic eyes as the myth crumbles under the weight of reality. The literary turn of phrase is an early version of Styron – particularly Stingo in Sophie’s Choice. But the deal is this – Gatsby is only as great as the world will let him be. His world, like the harsh prairie of Nebraska, is unforgiving. Somebody must be sacrificed and somebody is.

What do these books have in common? A narrator that watches and learns. A series of choices leading up to a conclusion that is as inescapable as it is devastating. What we, as readers, wanted for our characters, we did not get. Instead, we got reality. Real life – it is not the stuff of dreams.

What dreams may come
When we have shuffled off our romanticism
Must give us pause.

And I pause and tip my hat. Two worlds. Two narrators. One heavy dose of reality.