F is for F Scott Fitzgerald

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I have a confession to make. For this week’s book, “Tales of the Jazz Age” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I didn’t manage to read it all. Boo. It is entirely my own fault, and nothing to do with Mr F. Scott’s writing or anything like that. My social life got the better of me and I ended up trying to read the majority on Sunday evening, under pressure. I’m not very good under pressure, so I found that I read about twenty pages and then fell asleep. Whoops.
However, I only have about forty pages to go, so I have decreed that it’s enough to review and I’ll try to finish the rest in the next couple of weeks.

“Tales of the Jazz Age” has been published under a variety of titles. More recently, it’s been published as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Go figure. For those of you who have seen the multi award winning film, it might surprise you to know that the story is a mere twenty nine pages long. Evidently, the writers extrapolated a lot. I don’t want to compare it too closely with the film, but suffice it to say that there are a few crucial differences, along with many additions. The main one for me is that Benjamin is born as an old man – physically and mentally. In the film, he looks old but is mentally young. This is an important distinction which colours your view of either the book or the film. As far as the film goes, it gets them out of sticky ‘paedophilia’ situations and allows for a romance to grow that does not happen in the book.
The fact that Benjamin is born as an old man means that he dies as a baby. His world gets smaller and smaller, reducing from his career in the army to college at an Ivy League to being looked after by his son to being looked after by his grandson’s nurse and so on. His memories deteriorate gradually and peacefully, so he does not miss what he can’t remember. Apparently, the story stems from a quote which pondered why all the good stuff in life is at the beginning, when we don’t have the maturity to appreciate it.

F Scott Fitzgerald has a distinctive tone in his writing which always makes me think of languid summer days filled with Long Island Iced Teas and hi-balls full of gin. Maybe that’s why I fell asleep while reading…
His characters are never particularly likeable but are always human.

Out of the other stories I read, the one that sticks out the most is one about a cut glass bowl. This bowl is described as three and a half foot wide and was given to the protagonist of the story by an unsuccessful suitor. He curses the bowl, which sits in the story like a silent, malevolent villain who watches while the bad luck unfolds. It’s so oppressive that the mother’s feeling of being trapped within the confines of the crystal are not kept to the pages, but envelop the reader too.

The beauty of the short story is that it contains a novel in twenty pages. Characters are painted with wide brushstrokes, leaving the reader to fill in their own gaps. A well written short story isn’t a truncated novel, but a condensed one where nothing is lost. That probably explains why there are so many films that started off as short stories, including Stephen King’s collection “Different Seasons”, where a staggering three out of four stories have been made into films.

Are there any other collections you go back to? I like Roald Dahl’s numerous contributions – adult and absorbing with that air of macabre present in all of his books.

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