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This review is from: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: And Six Other Stories (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I had always thought that I had read nearly all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories. It wasn't until the recent film came out that I realised I was wrong. In this collection of seven pieces, The Cut-glass Bowl and May Day are relatively well known but Benjamin Button, O Russet Witch! and The Four Fists were entirely new to me.
There is a heavy vein of irony running throughout Fitzgerald's work. In BB, his family and friends treat his rapidly-shrinking age as if he were persisting in performing a slightly bizarre party-trick of which they were starting to tire.
I particularly like Fitzgerald's perfect ear for words. He describes Button's ageing wife as having, "a faint skirmish of grey hairs in her head", which since he had been talking about the Spanish-American War, is a touch of genius. And in Head and Shoulders (another new story for me) the hero's girlfriend "drapes the last skeins of a Welsh rabbit on her fork" while waiting for him to speak. The author can make even such minor moments in his narratives shine.
Perhaps my favourite story here is Four Fists, in which a businessman philosophically recalls his life in terms of four epiphanies when he was hit on the nose, almost as if were literally having some sense knocked into him.
There is wry comedy too:
"It's the only way," she gasped in a sort of triumphant malignity. "The only thing that keeps old folks like me happy is the sense that they can make other people step around. To be old and rich and have poor descendants is almost as much fun as to be young and beautiful and have ugly sisters"
("O Russet Witch", who proves in the end to be all too human.)
Fitzgerald's dark humour is something which it is almost impossible to transfer to celluloid; the latest attempt with Brad Pitt scorns even to try. However these tales remain masterpieces of the short story genre with their economy of language, wit and cynical eye and are true gems of American literature.