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This is a book of short stories aimed at encapsulating the fleeting American ‘jazz age’. Fitzgerald manages to convey the golden decadence of an era that is most famous for its ‘Lost Generation’. As Fitzgerald himself put it, the 1920’s held ‘a generation grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.’ Throughout this collection of stories, Fitzgerald maintains a thinly palpable vein of impatient inertia, where all his characters, big or small, find that life has somehow overreached them no matter what they do. I found the damning realisation of ‘time’ (or there not being enough of it) to be the greatest source of this anxiety.    

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Six Other Stories

What would life be like if you lived it in reverse..?

Out of the seven short stories collated in this edition, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘, ‘The Cut Glass Bowl‘ and ‘The Four Fists’ are probably the most dynamic and startling. This is the first time I have ever actually read Fitzgerald. There was one botched attempt at ‘The Great Gatsby‘ but that ended in failure as I grew too weary to carry on. However, I am glad to say that Fitzgerald is far more successful as a writer of short stories. For one, all the stories save two (‘May Day’ and ‘Crazy Sunday’) span the lifetime of a character, drawing attention to a certain thread of events and the often irreversible effects of the decisions made by those characters. With ‘Benjamin Button’, we have the unique and surreal premise of a young child who decides to live life backwards. Fitzgerald’s play on chronology itself is a clever plot device and added a doubled effect of absurdity and poignancy to the flow of the narrative. The unnatural chain of events lead us to look at each era of human life at a different angle, rendering every stage from childhood to old age a precious gift not to be wasted.

‘The Cut-Glass Bowl’ is again a moralistic tale of karma, using the Gothic-inspired device of attributing a physical object, this time a glass bowl, as the harbinger of death. With this story Fitzgerald studies the nature of marriage in the 1920’s. He traces with deft descriptions the early bloom and subsequent break-down of husband/wife relationships through a decidedly macabre lens. ‘The Four Fists’ is in the same vein, this time telling the story of how manhood and meaning of ‘becoming’ an adult.

For me, this book was a great re-introduction to Fitzgerald, as it helped me understand his ‘style’ a little better. I often have trouble with certain American authors, especially when their work is concentrated within a specific genre or time-period that is slightly alien to me. I almost had the same problem with Henry James until I read ‘The Aspern Papers’. So if you are like me, and worried that you can’t quite ‘get’ into the flow of certain writers, my recommendation is to get your hands on something shorter and perhaps a little less denser.

I give this book 3/5 stars, but it has helped me tremendously in learning to like Fitzgerald a bit more.