Gatsby Inspires Time Travel: A Tale of Weird Convergences

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a strange convergence of the characters of Jay Gatsby and Bill Clinton. That post either created or revealed, I’m not sure which, another strange convergence, this one involving F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote Gatsby; my best friend, his five-year-old daughter, and his grandfather; and me. I thought I’d pass it on.

The Gatsby post described how, in the scene in which the narrator Nick Carraway first meets Jay Gatsby, Gatsby’s power to connect with people reminded me of the same empathetic power so many people attribute to Bill Clinton:

[Gatsby] smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

To illustrate the same in Clinton, I mentioned what my friend Richard Ober saw when he had breakfast with Clinton:

When he turns to you and asks you what you think, you feel utterly, completely listened to. Part of you knows it probably doesn’t really matter. But the experience of it, the thing you feel while he’s looking at you, nodding and listening and asking questions, tells you it matters more than anything else in the world. And when you watch him listen to someone else it’s clear they’re feeling the same thing.

Thus Richard, unawares, snuck into my post. I quoted him only because he had said this about Clinton. But I had forgotten that, as Richard had told me years ago, Richard himself stood only one degree of separation from Fitzgerald himself (and thus two, I suppose, from Gatsby). Richard reminded me of this after reading the post:

You will remember that my grandfather Harold Ober was Fitzgerald’s agent (along with Faulkner, Buck, Salinger, et al). And that he was an informal godfather to Scott, to the point that Scottie, S and Zelda’s daughter, spent so much time at their house growing up that my father considered Scottie an adopted sister.

And that connection worked its way down to the naming of Daisy Anne Ober, Richard’s daughter, who is now 5 and ridiculously wonderful. Her first name obviously echoes that of Daisy Buchanan, the woman at the center of The Great Gatsby; her second name is that of her Richard’s grandmother. But though she was named after her grandmother, she was not, in the named-after-in-honor-of sense, named after Daisy Buchanan — possibly because DB was a lousy driver.

In any event, when Richard and his wife Googled that name to see if any precedent for it existed, “the only hit,” Richard wrote me,

was a first edition Great Gatsby inscribed to my grandmother, Anne, from Fitzgerald: “To Anne Ober, who could never be considered a Daisy.” Not exact language, but that was the sentiment. And that book was for sale for $35,000.

To complete the constellation of connections, Richard adds:

On the wall in foundation office [at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation] are silkscreened two quotes: “It we can do the next thing, and have an hour a day to think in, we can accomplish marvels” (This Side of Paradise). The other is the Maclean quote we used as an epigraph in The Northern Forest: “If you don’t know the ground you are probably wrong about nearly everything else.”

And so a blog post that tangentially mentioned Richard plunged us both, via Clinton, back through time to Fitzgerald, and to two different Daisys (or three, if you count the Anne who wasn’t a Daisy), which in turn threw us forward in time again to an inscription on his wall, which in turn takes us — him and me, anyway — back in time to the writing of our book, which was one of the funnest and best things I ever did.

Other than by accident, I’m not sure how you get on and off a train like that one.

PS from the Dept of Irony: Despite Dick’s lineage, we had no agent for The Northern Forest. Somehow we sold it anyway. We were young and on fire and didn’t know any better.

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