New York Magazine

Is It Story That Makes Us Read?

Plots: the who, what, and where—but maybe not why—of literature.

RECITE A PLOT BACKWARD and you’ll discover some things. Try it with a classic you haven’t read in years. You remember the green light on the last page of The Great Gatsby, of course, and probably Gatsby’s corpse in the pool a chapter earlier. Do you remember who killed him? It was Wilson, the husband of Tom Buchanan’s lover, Myrtle, who was run over by Gatsby’s car with Daisy at the wheel. It was Tom who told Wilson, a man with a few screws loose, that the car belonged to Gatsby, so you could make a case that Gatsby’s death was all Tom’s fault—that he was the real killer and had plenty of motive. You could also argue that Fitzgerald’s end plot is a shambolic mess heaped on a pile of coincidence, though there’s a beauty to the end of the novel that does express one of its great themes:

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