Category: F. Scott Fitzgerald

book review – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


F. Scott Fitzgerald was a very competent short story writer and this collection, which takes it’s title from a the story that has inspired the recent Brad Pitt film, shows off his skill.

In one sense it is amazing that the title story, a mere 25 pages or so, can lead to a film that ;last for hours. But at the heart of the Curious case of Benjamin Button is the simple idea exploring what it is like for a man to live his life backwards.

The result is age discrimination of a completely different order. But it also shows that those with knowledge and determination can achieve a great deal and perhaps those of us growing old slowly fail to grasps the opportunities as they come believing wrongly that there will be other moments later on.

But as well as the story of a 70 year old baby there are cursed beauties in the The Cut-Glass Bowl where a woman who has been given a cut-glass bowl by a former lover because it describes her as being cold, see through and beautiful to look at starts to suffer ill fortune. The bowl is always involved and as her fortunes dip the curse seems to stretch to her family and they are maimed by the bowl and the news of their death via telegram is inevitably put in the bowl for safe keeping.

This is dark and the element of the supernatural slightly disturbing. This is a dark tale and all it needs is to add some more macabre details about the house, heavy blood red curtains etc and some howling wind and it wouldn’t sit too uncomfortably in a Poe collection.

But one of the enduring themes of Fitzgerald’s work is not so much the supernatural but the sense of fate that divides rich and poor. In May Day a number of characters from both sides of the tracks are weaved together. One is almost destitute and has lost pride, employment and almost all hope, another is a wealthy young man who has avoided the same mistakes and the final element is a former girlfriend of the first. They meet and fail to help each other leaving the stricken destitute former Yale man to take the ultimate step.

What it tells you is that in the world of all night parties, champagne and hotels those without the necessary funds were finished and locked out of that world. Equally they had nothing to offer other social groups so they end up alienated and isolated.

For those looking in, in this case two soldiers, they might be invited into the ball to have a drink by a drunk but once things have sobered up they are firmly back on the other side of the class divide and reminded of it.

This reminds me in places of the Great Gatsby because the same vacuous existence is being played out here by characters that with one slip could so easily fall from their life of luxury.

In some sense these questions ask you the same question: who deserves pity? Even those who appear to have everything, from Yale men to film directors, suffer from a hollowness that is even worse because they are aware of it. Put this alongside something like Sister Carrie and you start to paint a picture of an America that might have enjoyed money but failed to have security and depth.

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book review – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


F. Scott Fitzgerald was a very competent short story writer and this collection, which takes it’s title from a the story that has inspired the recent Brad Pitt film, shows off his skill.

In one sense it is amazing that the title story, a mere 25 pages or so, can lead to a film that ;last for hours. But at the heart of the Curious case of Benjamin Button is the simple idea exploring what it is like for a man to live his life backwards.

The result is age discrimination of a completely different order. But it also shows that those with knowledge and determination can achieve a great deal and perhaps those of us growing old slowly fail to grasps the opportunities as they come believing wrongly that there will be other moments later on.

But as well as the story of a 70 year old baby there are cursed beauties in the The Cut-Glass Bowl where a woman who has been given a cut-glass bowl by a former lover because it describes her as being cold, see through and beautiful to look at starts to suffer ill fortune. The bowl is always involved and as her fortunes dip the curse seems to stretch to her family and they are maimed by the bowl and the news of their death via telegram is inevitably put in the bowl for safe keeping.

This is dark and the element of the supernatural slightly disturbing. This is a dark tale and all it needs is to add some more macabre details about the house, heavy blood red curtains etc and some howling wind and it wouldn’t sit too uncomfortably in a Poe collection.

But one of the enduring themes of Fitzgerald’s work is not so much the supernatural but the sense of fate that divides rich and poor. In May Day a number of characters from both sides of the tracks are weaved together. One is almost destitute and has lost pride, employment and almost all hope, another is a wealthy young man who has avoided the same mistakes and the final element is a former girlfriend of the first. They meet and fail to help each other leaving the stricken destitute former Yale man to take the ultimate step.

What it tells you is that in the world of all night parties, champagne and hotels those without the necessary funds were finished and locked out of that world. Equally they had nothing to offer other social groups so they end up alienated and isolated.

For those looking in, in this case two soldiers, they might be invited into the ball to have a drink by a drunk but once things have sobered up they are firmly back on the other side of the class divide and reminded of it.

This reminds me in places of the Great Gatsby because the same vacuous existence is being played out here by characters that with one slip could so easily fall from their life of luxury.

In some sense these questions ask you the same question: who deserves pity? Even those who appear to have everything, from Yale men to film directors, suffer from a hollowness that is even worse because they are aware of it. Put this alongside something like Sister Carrie and you start to paint a picture of an America that might have enjoyed money but failed to have security and depth.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and six other stories – post III

This has been a great collection of short stories and the final three leave you in awe of his talent as a writer and storyteller.

May Day
In particular this story, the longest in the collection, is weaved together with a number of different characters coming in contact each other at a ball. One is almost destitute and has lost pride, employment and almost all hope, another is a wealthy young man who has avoided the same mistakes and the final element is a former girlfriend of the first.

They meet and fail to help each other leaving the stricken destitute former Yale man to take the ultimate step.

What it tells you is that in the world of all night parties, champagne and hotels those without the necessary funds were finished and locked out of that world. Equally they had nothing to offer other social groups so they end up alienated and isolated.

For those looking in, in this case two soldiers, they might be invited into the ball to have a drink by a drunk but once things have sobered up they are firmly back on the other side of the class divide and reminded of it.

This reminds me in places of the Great Gatsby because the same vacuous existence is being played out here by characters that with one slip could so easily fall from their life of luxury.

Oh Russet Witch
A strange story that doesn’t really fall into place until the very end. A young man working in a bookstore falls in love from a distance with a woman he sees from his room. They speak three or four times over a span of 40 years and it is only at the end, when he is decrepit and in his 60s that he discovers who she is.

The opportunity to get involved with a dancer who lived life to the full only becomes a prospect he realises he missed out on after he is told her identity. The irony is of course that everyone around him knew, including his wife, and never once filled him in.

Morale of the story seems to be to wake up and not only grab life by the lapels but do some basic research if you get the chance to escape the mundane.

Crazy Sunday
An odd story that ends this collection with another reminder of the fragility of those at the pinnacle of power in the Jazz Age. A young screenwriter becomes embroiled in the lives of a director and his actress wife. The director has the odd combination of affairs but an amazingly strong steak of jealousy. He even starts to suspect the screenwriter of being a threat.

That causes him to consider missing the attendance of a ball game. While he is on his way (or is he?) the telegrams charting his progress start piling up to be concluded with one telling of his death in an air crash. The wife clings to the idea it is just part of his jealous games and the screenwriter leaves with the intention of returning perhaps when is can exploit the situation more.

It shows that even those who have it all are constantly scared of losing it and that fear is the cause of their own worst nightmares being realised. A shallow world.

A review will follow soon…

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and six other stories – post II

This collection continues to get slightly darker mixing a commentary of the upwardly mobile with some old fashioned curses.

The Cut-Glass Bowl

A woman who has been given a cut-glass bowl by a former lover because it describes her as being cold, see through and beautiful to look at starts to suffer ill fortune. The bowl is always involved and as her fortunes dip the curse seems to stretch to her family and they are maimed by the bowl and the news of their death via telegram is inevitably put in the bowl for safe keeping.

This is dark and the element of the supernatural slightly disturbing. Of course Benjamin Button is hardly based on fact but this is the darkest tale so far in this collection. Add some more macabre details about the house, heavy blood red curtains etc and some howling wind and it wouldn’t sit too uncomfortably in a Poe collection.

The Four Fists
A clever story about the way a man’s destiny was shaped by four punches in the face. Each time he over steps the mark he is thumped and each time it almost immediately brings him to his senses. As a result he become caring, compassionate and is able to empathise with others.

As the fists fly so the character improves. Not medicine I suspect that would benefit all of us.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and six other stories – post I

You end up reading this and come to the conclusion that if you can have a really strong idea it is possible to write about it s long as you do as brilliantly as Scott Fitzgerald.

The Strange Case of Benjamin Button

In one sense this is quite a straightforward story of a man who lives his life in reverse. Starting as a 70 plus and ending as a babe in arms he leads a live often clouded by frustration and rejection. He falls in love with a younger woman but as their ages move apart he leaves her and eventually he is back in the cot in his son’s home.

Fitzgerald skips whole decades of Benjamin’s life as he sticks to the main flash points of marriage, war, work and love. That obviously provides a great opportunity for script writers to fill the gaps for the likes of Brad Pitt but for the reader it keeps the story focused.

Rather than indulging the one idea until it loses its power by showing a life in selected highlights you never forget that Button is living backwards. At times he highlights the conflict between youth and adulthood as well as questions of discrimination because of age. One very powerful idea that he carries off brilliantly.

Head & Shoulders

Again another story where the title hints at the twist. A very clever but socially isolated academic is introduced to a chorus girl and he falls head over heels for her. They get married and describe their relationship as him being the head and her being the shoulders.

But down on their luck with her expecting he decides to try some trampoline stunts and becomes famous for his death defying jumps. She meanwhile writes a bestseller. Their roles are reversed and in the final scenes it becomes clear that jealousy and the resentment over failed ambitions could well be more powerful emotions than love.