Done right, short stories can be masterpieces, throwing the reader into existing lives and engrossing them enough to want to stay (and to feel the wrench when they have to leave). Having read this book – which is made up of stories taken from several of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s collections – I have to say he is one of the best short story writers I have ever read.
This could be to do with the the fact that I love the era in which the many of the stories are set: the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald creates the mood so beautifully in his love stories, of young men and women drinking and dancing into the night, and falling into seemingly casual romantic entanglements that end up affecting them for the rest of their lives. In this world few people seem to end up happy. Sensitive men who fall in love tend to lose the object of their desire to colder, more logical men who seem incapable of any real emotion beyond self-love. The female characters are thoughtful and intelligent, often choosing security over passion (or, at least, struggling with the choice). This is from Two Wrongs: “Her voice was flip as a whip and cold as automatic refrigeration, in the mode grown familiar since British ladies took to piecing themselves together out of literature.”
The atmosphere of the romantic stories is summed up perfectly by the title character in Josephine: A Woman With A Past: “One couldn’t go on forever kissing comparative strangers behind half-closed doors.” And yet, they do.
There are common threads throughout the stories, certainly, but they aren’t repetitive. The romantic tales are interspersed with brilliantly surreal stories, such as The Diamond As Big As The Ritz and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, and more light-hearted comedies like Gretchen’s Forty Winks. The final section is mainly composed of a series of humorous stories about Pat Hobby – an ageing Hollywood ‘writer’ who hangs around the studio he has worked at for years, and constantly ends up in trouble.
Fitzgerald’s dialogue is stunningly sparse and natural. Making the characters speak to each other, rather than to the reader, is absolutely essential for good dialogue, and Fitzgerald not only achieves this, but also layers what they say with wider symbolic meaning.
I absolutely loved this collection and I’m sure I’ll return to it again and again. I highly recommend this book.
“Then we left our napkins and empty glasses and a little bit of the past on the table, and hand in hand we went out into the moonlight itself.”
The Last Of The Belles
Before this, the only other book by F. Scott Fitzgerald I had read was, of course, The Great Gatsby. Because I had spent so much money at Waterstones, I had a gift voucher and when I saw the striking black and gold cover I had to buy it instantly.
Inside the book jacket, at the back, there is a tear-off bookmark in the style of the cover, with the quote: “He was in one sense the richest man that ever lived – and yet was he worth anything at all?” I used the bookmark, although it did feel a bit odd tearing a chunk out of the book.
This beautiful edition is by Penguin Classics – definitely a keeper!
– gildius –