A polymath who writes with enviable fluency about music, literature, politics and the place where the mainstream meets the counterculture, Marcus applies a Fitzgeraldian lens to a host of disparate artistic developments, interweaving them in enlightening, idiosyncratic fashion ... [Marcus'] smart, singular book gives us invigorating new ways to think about Fitzgerald’s iconic novel.
Mr. Marcus is good on the effects that the book would come to have on our culture, from the soundtrack-like embedding of popular music in works of fiction to the Gatsby-esque elements of detective novels and movies ... other connections take us far afield. Covering the various film versions of the novel, Mr. Marcus brings in the other, non-'Gatsby' roles performed by the men who played Nick Carraway. We also get a mini-editorial on the financing of election campaigns in the United States. The author’s long-winded, add-on prose style doesn’t help, either ... But Mr. Marcus does his music critic’s best to 'hear the tunes behind Fitzgerald’s words' and to help us hear them. He often succeeds wonderfully in illuminating the appeal of the book that framed for all time the intertwining of love and money in the American Dream—as pursued by Americans of the Jazz Age, or any age.
Unlike those who write dry, hyper-specialized academic criticism, Marcus isn’t afraid, as one reader of his once put it, to let 'everything remind him of everything else' ... This intuitive collage of different voices can offer the reader insights that aren’t available otherwise. At his best, Marcus guides the reader through the secret cultural histories that wind under the shiny billboard of American life, where so much of the country’s real thinking about itself really happens. Other times, the reader is left wandering aimlessly through Marcus’s extended digressions about movies or records that they might not know or care about much ... Marcus reminds us what a collective slap in the face Tom’s assertion of hereditary dominance really is to the way America likes to think of itself.
Unfortunately, Under the Red White and Blue is marred by self-indulgence. Marcus follows his pet interests. The result is a torrent of self-absorbed, insufficiently contextualised discursions (on Moby Dick, bluesmen, hard-boiled crime fiction, police procedurals) and free-association riffs retailed in hectic sub-Pauline Kael prose. Its accounts of movie and stage adaptations are mostly description, yielding scant critical insight. The overall effect is of a logorrhoea of pop culture arcana: the critic as garrulous Danny Baker blabbermouth ... This indiscriminate feel extends to language. It’s hard to get hold of the business end of a sentence that, including embedded quote, runs to 220 words. This is not David Foster Wallace stress-testing language and grammar to wrest meaning from them, his struggle writ on the page-Marcus isn’t working at that level here. It’s taxing on the reader; at 154 pages, Under the Red White and Blue is Gatsby-length but feels longer ... delivers on one front: quoting generously from Gatsby itself. Granted it’s a target-rich environment, but there’s an art to this and the excerpts are well-chosen. Anything that drives readers back to a transcendent work, fully 'commensurate to [our] capacity for wonder', is to be commended.
[Marcus], a master of juxtaposition, draws provocative, unexpected connections among literature, music, and movies ... Astute, challenging, and far-reaching: There’s much to chew on in Marcus’ disquisition on Gatsby’s legacy.
... an idiosyncratic book that occasionally soars ... the amount of space he grants to summaries of performances or movies, though invariably well-written, sometimes overwhelm the book’s critical component. If the many facts and ideas gathered by Marcus sometimes feel like too daunting a pile of glittering cultural detritus, taken in small amounts they do result in an entertaining meander for Fitzgerald fans.