As much as I wanted to, I could not bring myself to like most of the stories in this book. Fitzgerald has a way with turns of phrases and can set a story better than most, but I cannot get over the fact that all he writes about is, money, alcohol, parties and women. There were a couple of stories that stood out: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the reason I read the collection) and “O Russet Witch!” It is interesting to note that both of these are in the section of short stories Fitzgerald calls ‘Fantasies.’ The Lees of Happiness was also a good story, but it is under ‘Unclassified Masterpieces,’ and The Jelly-Bean in the ‘My Last Flappers’ portion. Four out of eleven isn’t too bad, but some of them were just odd.
Aside from the subject matter, the only thing that bothered me about his stories was the way he wrote about the South. It was similar to the way he wrote about cities. It was almost as if he’d not been there, but had this idea of what they were like. His dialogue and colloquialisms seemed real enough, but everything just seemed too caricatured and maybe it was a conscious effort on his part.
The Jelly-Bean – I mainly loved this one because it gave a sense of the age. The rhyming speak (bees-knees and cats pyjamas) made me laugh and the way he described the characters and their attitudes fit perfectly with the title. Again it dealt mostly with parties and alcohol and gambling (thank you prohibition for making people so obsessed with it), but it stood out above the other similar stories.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – By far the most interesting story and as such I can fully understand why it is his most famous short story. From what I can tell, I haven’t seen the film, it is NOTHING like the film. The story starts off simply enough with names and places descended from the same names and places and then the wrench of Benjamin’s condition appears in the story and it just gets darker. I will say the highlight of the story is the ending as the moral observations and the way Fitzgerald writes about the ending of ones life as a child is eerily reminiscent to many thoughts today on the elderly.
“O Russet Witch!” – Mostly I liked this one because of its setting in and around a book store. It was also interesting because it’s about unrequited love over a lifetime and specific events and connections that occur throughout a lifetime. I’m not sure if Fitzgerald had a spurned lover at one point, but the way the interactions occur, especially at the end, make me wonder if he’d had a passionate (if unrequited) love affair outside of his marriage, that wasn’t happy.
The Lees of Happiness – A beautifully written and poignant love story about a love through sickness and in health. His juxtaposition of the happiness at the beginning of the marriage and the contentedness throughout and the sorrow were well done and made this story stand out above many of the others.
Quotes from Tales of the Jazz Age
“Nancy had a mouth like a remembered kiss and shadowy eyes and blue-black hair inherited from her mother who had been born in Budapest.” – The Jelly-Bean, (16)
“He was astonishing himself by the debonair appropriateness of his remarks. Words seemed for the first time in his life to run at him shrieking to be used, gathering themselves into carefully arranged squads and platoons, and being presented to him by punctilious adjutants of paragraphs.” – O Russet Witch! (232)
“Love is fragile–she was thinking–but perhaps the pieces are saved, the things that hovered on lips, that might have been said. The new love words, the tendernesses learned, are treasured up for the next lover.” – May Day (90)
“Don’t let her kid you! Experience is the biggest gold brick in the world. All older people have it for sale.” – Porcelain and Pink (122)
“Caroline was dazzling and light, with a shimmering morass of russet waves to take the place of hair, and the sort of features that remind you of kisses–the sort of features you thought belonged to your first love, but know, when you come across an old picture, didn’t.” – O Russet Witch! (228)