Finally finishing “the Jazz Age”…

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I finally finished reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s collection of short stories Tales of the Jazz Age.  Here is a quick rundown of each of the stories about which I haven’t already posted:

“May Day” –  For those who think Fitzgerald’s stories are too depressing and his characters too shallow, this isn’t the story that will change their mind.  I can’t get the phrase “I’m a li’l stewed, Edith” out of my head.

“A Diamond As Big As the Ritz” – I read this story prior to blogging.  It’s one of my favorites from this collection and it’s the one, in my opinion, from which a movie should have been made.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – This was the story actually made into a movie – an incredibly long movie for a short story.  I also read this before blogging.  It was an interesting story but I found it too gimmicky.  It wasn’t the only story in this collection I found to be this way.  Sometimes the gimmicks worked, sometimes they didn’t.

“‘O Russett Witch'” –  This story holds the record for longest length of time it’s taken me to read a short story.  It seems to go on and on.  Is Caroline a witch or isn’t she?  I don’t know.  It did contain some beautiful writing, though, such as this paragraph:

The years between thirty-five and sixty-five revolve before the passive mind as one unexplained, confusing merry-go-round. True, they are a merry-go-round of ill-gaited and wind-broken horses, painted first in pastel colors, then in dull grays and browns, but perplexing and intolerably dizzy the thing is, as never were the merry-go-rounds of childhood or adolescence; as never, surely, were the certain-coursed, dynamic roller-coasters of youth. 

“Mr. Icky: The Quintessence of Quaintness in One Act” – A short story that is an odd and sometimes humorous play.

“Jemina, The Mountain Girl” – An incredibly funny story that reminds me of something Kurt Vonnegut would write.  Some from my adopted state, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, might find offense in this story.  I just find it funny.

All in all, Fitzgerald has more of a sense of humor than his Lost Generation cohort Ernest Hemingway.

Here are links to my posts about the other stories in the collection:

The Jelly-Bean

The Camel’s Back

Porcelain and Pink

Tarquin of Cheapside

The Lees of Happiness

Also, check out Hamlette the Dame’s great review of this collection over at The Edge of the Precipice!

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The Lees of Happiness by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The final short story from my 2013 Deal Me In project is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Lees of Happiness”.  In somewhat of a departure from the other Fitzgerald stories I’ve read this year in Tales of the Jazz Age, this one has real people with real problems.  Even if it contains a little melodrama and sentimentality, I enjoyed it for the fact that the characters show a depth of humanity and responsibility that doesn’t frequently appear in Fitzgerald’s 1920’s “lost generation”.

Jeffrey Curtain, a budding writer, marries Roxanne, an actress.  They move to a Chicago suburb  with the proverbial house with a picket fence.  They move in social circles that are typical of Fitzgerald’s characters; however, tragedy strikes when Jeffrey suffers a blood clot in the brain and becomes essentially “brain-dead”.  Most of the story revolves around Roxanne’s sacrificial giving of her life to taking care of Jeffrey.  There are those that criticize her for continuing to maintain her marriage – those that tell her that Jeffrey wouldn’t want her to “waste” her life this way.  I would not say that Fitzgerald is attempting to take a stance on the “right to die” issue, by any means (nor am I attempting to do that with this post).  I think he just wanted to show one human being committed to another for better or worse, in sickness and in health.

While I still consider The Great Gatsby one of my favorite books, I am well aware of the shallowness and decadence portrayed in that novel.  I think Fitzgerald, himself, was aware of the situation and that’s why he wrote the novel.  But I’m glad he wrote a story like “The Lees of Happiness”, also, showing humanity with something more.

The Jelly-Bean by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Happy Thanksgiving!  The short story I read this week, “The Jelly-Bean”,  by F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn’t have a Thanksgiving theme. The title brings to mind a different holiday, but the story isn’t about Easter, either.  The term Jelly-Bean is given to men who don’t have money and don’t work.  The more pleasant term used in the story is “idle”.  The story is set in Tarlton, Georgia so maybe Jelly-Bean is a southern expression, too.

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The Jelly-Bean’s name is Jim Powell, who unexpectedly gets invited by a wealthier acquaintance to a – you guessed it – party.  This is Fitzgerald, after all.  Foreshadowing The Great Gatsby,  Jim encounters Nancy with whom he is madly in love.  Of course, she is in a different class than he is.  Jim’s stroke of luck is just that.  He knows how to role the dice in crap-shooting.  With his luck, Jim manages to gain a passionate kiss from Nancy.  The reader, along with Nancy and even Jim, knows that’s all it is – one kiss.

The stories I’ve read so far from Tales of the Jazz Age have been just short of brilliant.  The possible exceptions would be “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “A Diamond As Big As The Ritz” – both of which I read before blogging. I think Fitzgerald’s elaborate writing style lends itself better to novels than short stories.  Sometimes the stories seem to skip over needed detail – detail that could have been better expressed in a novel.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve enjoyed the commentary from Fitzgerald, himself, at the beginning of the collection.  He indicated that this story was his first “collaboration”.  He needed someone with a Southern experience and it just so happened that his wife, Zelda, grew up in the South.  I was reminded of Zelda’s background not too long ago when I watched Woody Allen’s film, Midnight In Paris – his humorous film version of the Jazz Age and the Lost Generation.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Porcelain and Pink

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Whenever I think of the 1920’s, two things come to mind:  the Charleston and bathtubs with feet.

A bathtub with feet literally takes center stage in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “Porcelain and Pink”.  Within the story, there is a play that makes up most of the story.  During the play’s two scenes, the actress who plays the character, Julie, is on stage in a bathtub.  In the first scene, Julie interacts with her sister, Lois, who refuses to get her a towel.  In the second scene, Julie interacts with Lois’ date through the bathroom window (he can’t see her and actually thinks she is Lois).  The play, itself, which makes up the story, just isn’t that interesting.

The interesting, and in some ways genius, aspect of the story, is the few comments the reader gets regarding the audience.  The big question asked by the audience is whether the actress playing Julie actually has any clothes on while she’s in the bathtub on stage.  The reader, or at least this reader, didn’t really care what the actress was wearing; however, imagining the inquiring minds of the audience was rather humorous.

Creating the story about a play allowed Fitzgerald  to portray the envelope-pushing raciness of the 1920’s culture without actually making the story envelope-pushing and racy.

I’ve enjoyed the sense of humor Fitzgerald has put into these Tales of the Jazz Age, but they don’t have the same brilliance found in The Great Gatsby.  I can tell it’s hiding in there somewhere, though.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Camel’s Back

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Now that I’m back to my usual Deal Me In Short Story Project, where I’ve assigned a story to each card in a standard deck and I pick one each week, I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “The Camel’s Back” from his collection Tales of the Jazz Age.  After reading the humor of Mark Twain for the past week, I was surprised to find that I was reading a Fitzgerald story with a Twain-esque sense of humor.  Unfortunately, by the end of the story, the hilarious premise fizzles out.

Tales of the Jazz Age

The story takes place sometime after World War I and revolves around a group of young men who seem to have a significant amount of money and spend their days and nights going to parties.  For anyone who has read or knows much about Fitzgerald’s work, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  I haven’t seen the recent film version of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but I have enjoyed Fergie’s song from the movie “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody”.  When one of the young men, Macy, is asked if he’s going to a particular circus-themed costume party, he replies ” ‘Me? Sure I’m goin’. Never miss a party.  Good for the nerves – like celery.’ ”

After Perry Parkhurst is dumped by his girlfriend, Betty Medill, he intends to go to the circus-themed costume party; however, he has difficulty finding a costume.  The only one left is a camel that requires two people.  His next difficulty is finding someone to be the back-end of the camel.  He finally pays somebody off the street to do this, eventually explaining to his friends that the man came with the costume.  As he contemplates going to the party where his recently ex-girlfriend will be, he thinks perhaps that they may rekindle their romance:

His mind even turned to rosy-coloured dreams of a tender reconciliation inside the camel – there hidden away from all the world…

After accidentally hitting the wrong party, the “camel” makes its way into the right one and proceeds to flirt with Betty.  Betty, not knowing that the camel is Perry, doesn’t really mind the flirting.  It’s here that the story tends to leave it’s fantastic premise and stops being quite as funny.  In the introduction to my copy of Tales of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald indicates that this story is his least favorite of the group.  I wonder if he would have liked it better if he simply stopped before Perry, as the camel, met Betty.  That tends to be my opinion.