"Favorite novel?" was the question I was trying to navigate with what I wanted to seem like decisive ease. Internally, it was not. Not decisive, not easy. I was racking my brain, listing through novel after novel, tossing out the non-fiction (not technically a novel, after all), suppressing a smile as I debated answering "Little Women" for a brief moment. How could I really explain to someone who'd never read Louisa May's brilliance that my whole persona as a young adult had been modeled after Jo March?
I landed on the perfect answer in 4 seconds flat (it is amazing how much information can pass through a person's brain in 4 seconds...).
"The Great Gatsby."
First the narrowing of the eyes, then a grin broke out and a sparkle hopped around within them. "Scandalous..." he laughed out loud and spread some cheese on his crackers (I really have to work at keeping the sand out of things at the beach...I am sure the cheese spread was filled with it. Somehow, he decided to marry me anyway.)
A fantastic discussion ensued. Fitzgerald's family relation to Francis Scott Key. His friendship with Ernest Hemingway. His cousin, Mary Surratt, who was hanged for conspiring in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. His marriage to Zelda in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The fact that "Gatsby" did not actually sell very well until after Fitzgerald's death.
Fitzgerald's death came too early, a direct result of not taking care of himself. While Fitzgerald claimed to have contracted tuberculosis, it was actually severe alcoholism that claimed his life.
Today, September 24, is the day that F. Scott Fitzgerald would be celebrating his birthday. The man who inspired the works of T.S. Eliot and J.D. Salinger would be 117 years old today. He would have seen "Gatsby" made into now 5 different films (sorry, Leonardo, you just don't hold a candle to Robert Redford). And perhaps he would have lemon cake, as Gatsby did when Daisy joined him for tea in chapter 5.
And so our family dinner table will have lemon cake on it this evening (though my healthier-than-me-husband might prefer the Harlequin Salad), with tea for the obnoxiously shallow Daisy, and a toast to the American author who once mischievously announced, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."
Gatsby's Lemon Cake for Daisy
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp lemon extract
1 cup milk
Mix it all together, pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan, and bake it for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool completely before serving.