- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; 01 edition (27 Nov. 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141190191
- ISBN-13: 978-0141190198
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: And Six Other Stories (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 27 Nov 2008
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'His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings' - Ernest Hemingway
About the Author
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in St Paul, Minnesota. In 1920 he married Zelda Sayre. Their destructive relationship and her subsequent mental breakdowns became a major influence on his writing. Among his publications were five novels, This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender is the Night and The Love of the Last Tycoon (his last and unfinished work), plus six volumes of short stories. Fitzgerald died suddenly in 1940.
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Top customer reviews
The title story, Benjamin Button, is an imaginative fable, in which the "baby" is born a full grown man and during the course of the next 70 years grows younger and younger until he ends his life as a baby. I am not quite sure what the purpose of the story is other than as a curiosity, but it is well done and Scott Fitzgerald dreams up some amusing scenarios. Button's father goes to see the new child in the maternity hospital and sees, ". . . an old man apparently about 70 years of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a long smoke-coloured beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window".
Mr Button Senior buys his new son a rattle and insists that he plays with it, whereupon, ". . . the old man took it with a weary expression and could be heard jingling it obediently at intervals throughout the day".
Lead soldiers, toy trains and soft toys failed to arouse Benjamin's interest, although he seemed to have a preference for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and also for his father's dark Havana cigars.
When Benjamin reaches the age of 18, his physique has improved, although appearing like a man of fifty, with dark grey hair and a healthy baritone voice. He enrols at college. A few years later he joins his father's firm and the two men appear to be roughly the same age. They go to a dance, and he is taken for his father's brother, and dances with a young woman Hildegarde who likes the company of older men.
Within six months, Benjamin and Hildegarde are engaged to be married. Alas, fifteen or so years later, Benjamin is increasingly attracted by the "gay side of life" and soon he finds that his wife ceases to attract him. Benjamin joins the army and fights in the Spanish-American war but on returning home a hero, finds a woman of forty waiting for him while he now looks only thirty. I won't spoil the story by describing Benjamin's precocious "childhood", but needless to say, Scott Fitzgerald works the logic of the story through to its inevitable conclusion.
The other stories are equally readable and enjoyable. The Cut-Glass Bowl is set in the 1890s when it was fashionable for newly weds to receive various cut-glass objects as wedding presents. Evelyn Piper receives a huge cut glass bowl as a present from a former admirer who tells her, "Evelyn, I'm going to give you a present that's as hard as you are and as beautiful and empty and as easy to see through". The story sees the outworking of this statement with the bowl acting as a device to illustrate various episodes of Evelyn's life, until disaster happens.
The Four Fists is a strange story which shows how a punch in the face on four different occasions teaches a man some deep lessons about life. May Day is a graphic word picture of the post-war celebrations in a "great city" with various characters working out their lives in conflict with each other. Other stories complete this taster of Scott Fitzgerald's stories in fine style, leaving the reader thinking that this would be a good time for the short story form to be revived by modern writers - but would many have such skill in this demanding genre?
For me, the most insightful parts were the author's observations on growing old and how we fool ourselves in 'The Russet Witch'. When Merlin sticks with a tedious job in a bookshop all his life, and follows the expected path of marriage and family, ending up as manager on $50 a week:
'Looking back, he saw his own progress toward this hill of elation no longer as a sometimes sordid and always gray decade of worry and failing enthusiasm and failing dreams, years when the moonlight had grown duller in the areaway and the youth had faded out of Olive's face, but as a glorious and triumphant climb over obstacles which he had determinedly surmounted by unconquerable willpower...Half a dozen times he had taken steps to leave...and soar upward, but through sheer faint-heartedness he had stayed on. Strangely enough he now thought that those were times when he had exerted tremendous persistence and had 'determined' to fight it out where he was.'
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
A few years ago I read the Great Gatsby by the same author and really liked it, but this collection of short stories is quite something else.Read more