DEAL ME IN – WEEK 19
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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “An Alcoholic Case” rates as a departure in his writing style. Fitzgerald’s typical ornate wording gives way to a more stripped down, cut-to-the-chase manner of writing. I make no definitive conclusion; however, after the informative biographies I’ve read about Fitzgerald (So We Read On by Maureen Carrigan) and Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson), I’m curious if this story was in some way an attempt by Fitzgerald to write like his Lost Generation cohort with whom he did not always have the greatest relationship.
A home health nurse is assigned to the case of an alcoholic and he tends to live up to the reputation alcoholics have among the nurses. Broken glass becomes some sort of symbol whether it’s a broken bottle of gin on the bathroom floor or the broken windows in the bus the nurse takes home each evening. Life’s brokenness and sharpness come to mind as I read the quick story – another exception to the typical Fitzgerald style. This is probably the shortest story of his that I’ve read.
I also couldn’t help but wonder about the significance of this story to Fitzgerald’s own relationship to alcohol. In both the previously mentioned biographies, Fitzgerald’s drinking binges were widely known and could have resulted in at least a few lost relationships in addition to contributing to his early death at the age of 44 (this story was published in 1937, three years prior to his death).
In Hemingway’s Boat, Paul Hendrickson quotes one of Hemingway’s letters in which he laments his public’s expectations of writing longer novels as opposed to novels like The Old Man and The Sea. At least ten years after Fitzgerald’s death, Hemingway wonders if this had any impact on Fitzgerald’s downturn as a popular author as The Great Gatsby was a short novel, also. With a typical mean stroke (even after Fitzgerald was dead), Hemingway says:
“…I will bet it did more to wreck poor old Scott than anything except Zelda, himself and booze.”
Because I prefer Fitzgerald to be Fitzgerald and Hemingway to be Hemingway, “An Alcoholic Case” may not be my favorite of Fitzgerald’s stories, but it was worth reading. Also, if one is looking for the light, fun and sentimental Fitzgerald, try his earlier stories – this one does not fit that mold:
She knew death – she had heard it, smelt its unmistakable odor, but she had never seen it before it entered into anyone, and she knew this man saw it in the corner of his bathroom: that it was standing there looking at him while he spit from a feeble cough and rubbed the result into the braid of his trousers. It shone there…crackling for a moment as evidence of the last gesture he ever made.