- The Good: Captivating ideas; historical significance
- The Bad: Plots feel unfinished; characters unsympathetic
- The Literary: Fitzgerald is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century
One of the most famous American writers of the 20th century, F. Scott Fitzgerald is best known for his novel The Great Gatsby, with its many adaptations. Collected here are four of Fitzgerald’s short stories, all written in the early 1920s.
Each of these short stories or novellas is based on an interesting premise and is uniquely standalone. They are quite situated in their time and place, and reflect decadence and elitism that, to me at least, doesn’t read as satire. So much of it is sexist and racist, with unsympathetic and unrelatable characters, and plots that feel like writing experiments.
Let’s look at the stories one by one. Before we move ahead, be aware that unlike my other reviews, this one contains spoilers.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” — Having seen the film adaption, I’m surprised by the humor in this fantasy story of a man who is born in his seventies and ages backwards. Benjamin’s life is a high-level decade-spanning overview of everyone who doesn’t believe in his ailment, while he himself is a product of his hormones and the pressures of his peers, until he is forgotten by his family and fades into early childhood.
“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” is full of characters who prioritize wealth over life, are careless or complicit in theft and murder, and are bored in the way only rich kids can be. Percy admires the wealth of the his boarding school mate John, and they visit John’s family’s mountain estate that isn’t found on any maps. The estate doesn’t pay any taxes and isn’t included in any census, and the father keeps the diamond supply down to maintain prices. Their father is so secretive that he routinely murders the friends and family who visit them, shoots down any aircraft that flies over, and never plans to inform their black slaves that slavery was abolished. Percy falls in love with John’s sister who wanted to be a war nurse when she was young, but since the war is over, her father offers to start another for her. They laugh over what an adventure it must be to be poor.
“Tarquin of Cheapside” is a nonsensical dada-esque story that wants to be poetry. On a quiet evening reading The Faerie Queen, a frantic pounding on the door disturbs the narrator and his friend Wessel. The man known as Soft Shoes is running for his life, exhausted and afraid, and they decide to hide him in a trapdoor in the ceiling. Once the pursuers are gone, Wessel demands an explanation, at which point Soft Shoes spends all night writing his story. In the morning, he reads it, and it is the Rape of Lucrece.
“O Russet Witch!” is the most character based tale of the collection and begins with a quiet young man who works in a bookshop but longs after a vivacious and rebellious young woman he calls Caroline. She appears like a figment, causing chaos and damaging property, often dancing on tables, with at least several men following her. He watches her his entire life, marries another woman, has a son, always admiring her from afar. When he is old and gray, Caroline speaks to him for the first time, saying that she hopes she brought some courage and inspiration to his boring life, and our protagonist realizes he wasted every opportunity to live the life he always wanted.
Recommended for fans of Fitzgerald or anyone who longs of the roaring twenties.