(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Quiz about two famous stories, seemingly unrelated, which actually have (at least) 9 parallels between them

[Answer is given below when you scroll down]

I’m thinking of two famous stories which are parallel with each other in each of the following nine ways. In each story:

ONE: There is an unreliable narrative point of view;

TWO: The plot involves multiple interwoven, doomed extramarital affairs;

THREE: There is a death of a major character near the end of the story which occurs in water, and it may be a homicide;

FOUR: We repeatedly witness the careless arrogance of the rich toward the less well off;

FIVE: Most or all of the action takes place in a small seaside community on Long Island, and in nearby NYC;

SIX: A key plot turn involves the death of one character by hit-and-run in a car driven by a woman; but then the man who loves her in their doomed affair takes responsibility, and falsely claims to have been the driver, in order to save her from prosecution; 

SEVEN: A major male character is covertly involved in the distribution of an illegal intoxicating substance,

and, last but not least, these two word clues:

EIGHT: One of the male characters whose point of view is major in the story has a first name beginning with the letter N, and a last name ending with the syllable "way", and

NINE: The first name of the character who is killed in the hit and run in one story is the same as the first name of the famous author of the other story.

Any guesses? Rather than tease around, I will give you the answer below, but if you want to have some fun, wait to scroll down. You may well recognize one of the answers right away, but not the other. 

NOTE: Spoilers as to certain plot points in both stories





The two correct answers are The Great Gatsby and The Affair. Now for a brief unpacking of all this. First the actual parallels (and this is massive spoilers for both The Affair and The Great Gatsby)

I first got the idea for this post, when my friend Elaine Bander wrote in Facebook the other day, that she had noticed for the first time that there were structural parallels between Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. 

I was curious to try to figure out what those parallels might be, given that I had read both WH and TGG, and I always love investigating intertextuality hidden in plain sight – and it was while reading the Wikipedia synopsis of TGG, and I was reminded that there was a hit-and-run negligent homicide in it, which was a pivotal plot twist leading to the tragic climax of the novel. 

That immediately brought to my mind one of the most pivotal plot points of the recently concluded 5-season Showtime series The Affair, in which a hit-and-run negligent homicide similarly functions as a pivotal plot twist, although it occurs near the start of the series, a terrible event that shapes the arc of the entire rest of the story.

Now, as of 2 days later, I have collected the above 9 parallels between The Great Gatsby and The Affair, which, trebly over, confirm that Sarah Treem, the show creator, was being very very sly about alluding to The Great Gatsby, hiding it in plain sight, but only for those who were familiar with The Great Gatsby. I am sure there are more that I have not yet found, as I need to reread TGG to see what else rings a bell in The Affair. 

And, beyond the scavenger hunt, puzzle solving fun of the above, the more significant question is to ask what light this hidden-in-plain-sight allusion in The Affair casts on The Great Gatsby? And also, in reverse, what light does The Great Gatsby cast on how we should understand The Affair? I don’t have any developed answers yet, but I have a strong hunch that this was not just a literary parlor trick by Treem, and that both of these inquiries will enrich our understanding of both works.

In this regard, check out this answer by Treem to a question in an August 2016 interview about The Affair:
“The Affair’ Creator Answers Key Question: Is Noah Solloway Actually a Good Writer?”
By Vinnie Mancuso  08/11/16 
But the one trait we can’t confirm with absolute certainty is whether Noah Solloway–two time novelist, literary dynamo, pillar of masculinity, etc etc–is actually a talented writer. We posed that question to The Affair creator Sarah Treem, as part of a larger interview that will run closer to season 3’s November premiere date.
“Oh, you mean THE Noah Solloway? I think Noah has the potential to be a great writer,” Treem said, sitting in the lobby bar of the Beverly Hilton hotel. “I’m not sure he’s reached it yet. But I think he’s got it in him.
“I think in a lot of ways,” she continued, “Noah is writing to be known. He’s writing basically for the sake of having that reputation, of being known as a writer. But I think some people that are heavily invested in the identity of a writer are incredible writers. You go back to the F. Scott Fitzgeralds and the Ernest Hemingways, they all cared very deeply about being seen as a writer.”
Well, there you have it. Noah Solloway is basically F. Scott Fitzgerald mixed with Ernest Hemingway. Suck it, Bruce Butler." 

So Sarah Treem played fair with her fans, and couldn’t resist leaving an extra-textual Easter Egg (or should I say, East Egg?) for fans of The Affair! 

And now that I reread that quote, it also makes me wonder whether it is only my relative lack of familiarity with Hemingway’s fiction is the reason why I haven’t yet realized that Hemingway might be a spice in Treem’s literary stew as well --- “Sollo-WAY” as pointing not only to “Nick Carraway” but also… “Nick Adams” the protagonist of Hemingway’s autobiographical story collection?

But for today, I will finish with a quotation of the final paragraphs of The Great Gatsby. I defy anyone who has watched The Affair to tell me that they’re not strangely reminded of it, especially of the tragic character of Allison:

On the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold to the grocer, I went over and looked at that huge incoherent failure of a house once more. On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight and I erased it, drawing my shoe raspingly along the stone. Then I wandered down to the beach and sprawled out on the sand.
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes--a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning----
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I can almost hear the haunting strains of Fiona Apple's compelling song "Container" that is the theme music of The Affair.

Cheers, ARNIE

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