Books: A World Away From the Great Gatsby

Venable Park (Mill City Press)

Although not a sports book per se, three years ago this fall I wrote Venable Park, a novel set in 1920’s Baltimore on the grounds of a football stadium. With the release of another film take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, set in the same era, I wanted to make a brief mention of the former.

Its main character is Henry Dawson, like Gatsby a WW I veteran. They inhabit entirely different worlds, as Jay Gatsby lives a post-war life on Long Island far removed from the grime and danger that define that of Dawson’s Baltimore. With the passage of time the influence of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece has fittingly grown, and with it the 1920’s reputation as an era of gilded opulence.

There is much truth in Fitzgerald’s depiction of the time; the stock market boomed until October 1929, and the jazz heyday that blossomed in the 1,000s of speakeasies and openly defied Prohibition was in no small way a cultural revolution in America. Henry Ford’s production methods continued to make “motor cars” an ever more affordable luxury.

But increasingly lost in the fine print of the decade is the hardship that existed for the vast majority of Americans. Social Security and the first strands of the social safety net that began with FDR’s Depression-battling initiatives did not exist. Loss of a job, and one’s livelihood, often resulted in a short road to poverty and despair.

Venable Park looks at that ever-diminishing reality of the 1920’s. Henry Dawson works both at a steel mill and in constructing a football stadium on the grounds of the book’s title. As Fitzgerald’s Gatsby dabbled in the stock market,most of the country, like Dawson, dabbled in the toil behind the stocks. – TF