Great writing informs great copy editing

The ending lines of The Great Gatsby make any good list of the best closings in literature. The last line is perfect while the penultimate paragraph is perplexing:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.
It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms
further . . . And one fine morning —

Savor that paragraph for a moment divorced of the final paragraph. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s impeccable wording seems imprecise, uncertain, elusive. The punctuation, defying convention, serves as visual poetry, echoing the grasping thought process of the narrator. Its uncertainty contrasts with the final line, one of realization and acceptance, the end of youthful optimism:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

It’s hard to consider the penultimate paragraph without the last. But I wonder how many people stop at it and think, “Gosh, this could use a good editor.”

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