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Gatsby at 90: Minnesota writer's masterpiece celebrates anniversary

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You simply can't talk about the concept of the near-mythical "Great American Novel" without also mentioning "The Great Gatsby," which celebrated its 90th birthday (or publication day, to be a little more literal) Friday.

But don't take our word for it – even USA Today makes a robust argument as to why the book ought to be counted among the country's greatest literary works, right up there with the likes of "Moby Dick."

It's why we remember and admire F. Scott Fitzgerald, a St. Paul native who, were he alive, might be surprised that his little novel (and it is light on its feet, weighing in at under 200 pages, depending on the edition you buy) is today considered a shining exemplar of fine writing and keen social commentary.

That's because it was published – on April 25, 1925 – to decidedly "meh" reviews.

The Atlantic compiled a few choice excerpts from some of those reviews, and it's easy to see why Gatsby's lofty place in literary history might have seemed a little unlikely at the time.

– "This story is obviously unimportant," wrote the Chicago Tribune's H.L. Mencken, who went on to say that Fitzgerald was more concerned with the plot than the book's characters.

– Meanwhile, Harvey Eagleton of the Dallas Morning News opined that "one finishes Great Gatsby with a feeling of regret, not for the fate of the people in the book, but for Mr. Fitzgerald."

Ouch.

There was also little love from The New York Times, which wrote that the book is "clever and brilliantly surfaced but not the work of a wise and mature novelist."

According to the Atlantic, the litany of "thumbs-down" reviews hurt sales, and Fitzgerald's ego.

He died in California in 1940 (at the age of 44) thinking himself a failed writer, and with no riches to show for his work, Slate writes.

Of course, Fitzgerald (and Gatsbywould be vindicated.

He left his mark on Minnesota as well, and you can see it for yourself – the Minnesota Historical Society offers walking tours of Fitzgerald haunts in the St. Paul neighborhood he once called home.

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