By Maureen Lee Lenker
November 20, 2020 at 10:00 AM EST
Credit: Michael Lionstar

John Grisham is inviting readers to take a new look at East and West Egg.

Few books loom as large in the canon of American literature as The Great Gatsby. The F. Scott Fitzgerald novel was not a huge hit when it debuted, but since the 1950s it's been considered an essential classic. The novel's copyright expires Jan. 1 (alongside all works published in the U.S. in 1925), promising a flurry of new editions.

One such edition is a Vintage Trade paperback with a new introduction from Grisham, the best-selling author of legal thrillers like A Time to Kill and The Firm. EW can exclusively share the book's cover, as well as an excerpt of Grisham's introduction.

For those who haven't yet felt the lure of the green light at the end of the dock or just need a refresher, The Great Gatsby is a Jazz Age tale told by bemused narrator Nick Carraway. When Carraway meets the wealthy Jay Gatsby, he's drawn into the man's intoxicating social circle, while still digging for any clue to the truth of Gatsby's past. Gatsby's glittering parties are soon overwhelmed by his yearning for lost love Daisy Buchanan, who lives just across the way. As Nick becomes increasingly enmeshed in their lives, he hurtles toward an inevitably tragic conclusion.

This edition will hit shelves Jan. 5. Check out the cover and excerpt below.

Excerpt from John Grisham's introduction to The Great Gatsby

To date, The Great Gatsby has sold 30 million copies in fifty languages, and because it is required reading in so many classes, it sells five hundred thousand copies a year.

How did the book, panned when published, by a writer who died young, defeated, and broke, become one of the greatest of all American novels? And what, exactly, did its author intend for it to be about?

Huge forests have been cleared to produce enough paper for countless academics and scholars to analyze these two questions. The novel explores themes of class, gender, decadence, excess, race, betrayal, redemption, and the American dream (anything left out?). Libraries have been filled with scholarly works about Fitzgerald and his most famous work.

Though debates have been and will continue to be fierce, it is well accepted among scholars and serious readers that the book is a highly symbolic reflection of America in the 1920s. Fitzgerald portrays the era as a time of social and moral decay as evidenced by unbridled greed and the relentless pursuit of pleasure. The American dream—the belief that anyone, regard­less of how humble his or her background, can rise above it through hard work and determination—was being destroyed by the reckless desire for money and material excess.

Jay Gatsby turned to crime, made his fortune, and tried in vain to escape his past and beat his own fate. The odds were always against him, and he failed and died trying.

The last sentence of the book is its most famous: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Jay tried mightily to beat on, to fight the current, to rewrite his past but in the end could not overcome it.

That's the beauty of the book. We are caught in our past and cannot escape it, but at least we try.

John Grisham


Related content: