It’s typical that Marcus registers no irony or sense of the ridiculous when suggesting that the “place to start” might be the bumpy reputation of a different novel altogether: Moby-Dick. Before long, a peculiar frame of reference emerges. Harold Bloom – whose views on Fitzgerald we do not hear – is quoted on the subject of the Band, because Ishmael’s account of falling in line at funeral processions reminds Marcus of the opening lines of their song “The Weight”, while Edmund Wilson features not as Fitzgerald’s adviser and executor, but because he published his account of Civil War literature, Patriotic Gore (1962), the year after the magazine TV Guide included a listing of John Huston’s film of Melville’s novel.
But if Under the Red White and Blue underwhelms, it delivers on one front: quoting generously from Gatsby itself. Granted it’s a target-rich environment, but there’s an art to this and the excerpts are well-chosen. Anything that drives readers back to a transcendent work, fully “commensurate to [our] capacity for wonder”, is to be commended.