Monday, June 24, 2013

Review of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: "Jay, NA, & Hemingway"

In which Sam rants about the new NA genre, raves about The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby, and accuses summer of inducing the mass delusion that we are all young again.

In 2009, in an effort to reach a growing cohort of YA readers over 18, St. Martin’s Press held a contest seeking fiction for a “new adult” category. Though it’s been four years since the term hit the blogosphere, I still hadn’t heard of “NA” fiction until Meg and Kate mentioned it to me a few weeks ago. After some Google sleuthing, I discovered the fabulous NA Books Blog, which aptly describes the category here. I’ll give you Heather’s summary of NA in brief:

NA books are the bridge between Young Adult (YA) fiction and Adult fiction. Main characters are 18 to 30 years old. Themes include leaving home, gaining independence from parents, developing sexuality, and romance, as well as making education and career choices.

Heather also points out the controversy among publishers that NA isn’t “real” somehow – that there is no such category, and it’s just a marketing tool. She musters the strong evidence of NA existence from the success of contemporary NA fiction like Beautiful Disaster. I agree, but I also think that NA has been around much longer than four years, or fourteen years. I think it’s been around for at least eighty-eight.

To me, New Adult fiction isn’t so much about an age – twenty-two, nineteen, twenty-seven – as about those themes of pathbreaking, discovery, and decisionmaking. But the transitions and tragedies that prompt such actions aren’t reserved for twentysomethings, and summers especially throw the subtle, slow-moving channels of change into sharp relief, and there are no two adult summers more apt than Jake and Jay’s summers in the early twentieth century.

Jake Barnes, the protagonist of The Sun Also Rises, is living in Paris as an expatriate after World War I. He is helplessly, hopelessly still in love with Lady Brett Ashley (the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl?) but a wound from WWI has left him impotent. The novel follows him in sensory, intimate detail as he travels Europe and absorbs the explosive emotional affairs of his closest companions:

“Never fall in love?”
“Always,” said the count. “I am always in love.”

Jay Gatsby, the central character in The Great Gatsby, lives on Long Island in the Roaring Twenties, a splendid shell of wealth and charm, and a churning mess of yearning beneath. He too is helplessly in love with Daisy, the old-money One That Got Away. The reader watches Jay unravel through Nick Carraway’s eyes, wonders at the whole world unraveling around him – a premonition of what was to come in 1929:

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

Both summers force the men to face impotency – Jake, a physical impotency, and Jay, an impotency borne of class and wealth. Neither can truly be with the women they love. But both summers (all summers?) offer the illusion of youth; the illusion of freedom; the illusion of choice.

“Can’t repeat the past? … Why of course you can.”

The brilliance of these two novels can’t be reduced to the changes in each man experiences, his subsequent choices, or how the summer captures the catalyst for both. Yet there is a New Adult feel to the worlds Fitzgerald and Hemingway create. Who is Jay Gatsby, really? And Lady Brett Ashley – who is she to Jake? Nick Carraway and Jake Barnes search for these answers as avidly as the readers do. Discovery defines the New Adult experience, and so I offer you these two novels as proof that perhaps we’ve always read NA novels. And – I hope – always will.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

The Sun Also Rises

Good Writing Badge 
Tissue Box Badge 

Trumps Tropes Badge

The Great Gatsby

Good Writing Badge

Tissue Box Badge

I'd Marry You If You Were Real Badge

Do you read New Adult fiction? What NA books have you enjoyed? Are there any novels you’ve read that you would classify now as NA? Why or why not?



  1. And so my questions on NA have been answered! I've come to the conclusion that what a lot people would classify as classic young adult literature is what I would probably count as New of Endless Light perhaps, or a lot of contemporary YA like Deb Caletti. But maybe that's because anytime I think teen fiction I kind of my head haha. I found myself labeling books I liked as YA and books I didn't as teen (and I'm pretty sure that's not how that was supposed to work)

    1. Haha, so glad to help :) Your thought process on it makes sense, and I think it can work however you like, hah!


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