Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The Book: Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor; THE SHORT STORIES OF F. SCOTT FITZGERALD: A New Collection. Scribners, 1989. Fine book in good dust jacket; jacket is creased and cracked at edges and spine.
First read: 1989
Owned since: 1989

This book is an expanded version of an earlier collection, which I'd read in high school. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote short stories to pay the bills, considering himself primarily a novelist. I think time has proven that he was primarily a short story writer who wrote one very good novel, and a few other interesting experiments.

I'm not sure why this book always makes me think of springtime, except that it's probably when I first read these stories; I remember checking the earlier collection out from my high school library, and falling in love with Fitzgerald's characters the way he must have.

The book falls open naturally to the last page of my favorite story, "The Sensible Thing." It is apparently autobiographical, the story of George O'Kelly's return to Jonquil, the Southern belle who had jilted him. It's a story about bad timing, romance vs. pragmatism, and the tragedy of getting what you longed for.

Fitzgerald's stories are romantic, in that characters feel that their emotions require action, but also clear-eyed about what that romance costs. While most of his stories deal with romance between a rich girl and a poor boy, "A Freeze-Out" is the story of a young man of good family determined to marry the daughter of a shady businessman.

Together, these 43 stories are a panoramic view of a particular, peculiar time in American history: the transition to the modern. "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" is Fitzgerald's most famous, most specific commentary on this transition, but almost all of the stories grasp at moments that the author knows are already gone, or about to be.

At the end of "Last of the Belles," another strongly autobiographical story, the narrator asks his old love, Ailie, to drive out to him to the place where his Army training camp had been. The camp is gone, of course, and the narrator can only guess at where it might have been.
No. Upon consideration they didn't look like the right trees. All I could be sure of was this place that had once been so full of life and effort was gone, as if it had never existed, and that in another month Ailie would be gone, and the South would be empty for me forever.


Claire said...

I have this collection, and I flip through it all the time. I don't always read it, but it's a comfort object for me. I like to have this, The Great Gatsby, The Princess Bride, and The Little Prince around all the time. I pack them for trips in lieu of a travel pillow.

It's funny that you feel that way about Fitzgerald as a writer--I reread This Side of Paradise a couple years ago, and was underwhelmed. It's really just a bunch of linked short stories, mostly ideas that he realized more fully later on. None of his other books ever sold as well, though.

AnswerGirl said...

Ooh... I wonder if this is genetic. And I wonder whatever happened to the copy of The Little Prince I brought with me to college.