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3.9 out of 5 stars
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I'd never read Scott Fitzgerald's short stories before and this seemed as good an introduction as any. I was not disappointed: the stories are witty and complex with a huge amount of atmosphere from early 20th century America.

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?
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VINE VOICEon 13 February 2009
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.
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Having enjoyed novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald I was keen to try his short stories. This is a great collection, with the title story being the best in my opinion. Benjamin Button is born at the age of seventy and then proceeds to get younger and younger. The story is cleverly told, with his father, and later son's, dismay at the problems this throws up, poignant as well as humorous. I most enjoyed the fathers insistence his 'baby' should play with a rattle, when Benjamin would sneak off and try to enjoy a cigar in peace!

Highlights from the other stories offered is one about the perceived missed chances of a young man working in a bookshop and that of a writer, dealing with love and networking in Hollywood. As always, Fitzgerald has a keen eye for detail and the world he lived in. The young man, down on his luck, trying to hide his frayed cuffs from a friend who is horrified he is forced to deal with a request for money when he would rather not think about it, the humiliation of a wife whose husband is drunk at a dinner party, the way married love changes are all wrapped up neatly in a line, but so we all understand exactly how the character feels. Highly enjoyabl collection.
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on 20 September 2016
Yes, very curious indeed.
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.
Firstly, Benjamin Button is only a dozen or so pages, so a really short story then; quirky though.
Some of the other stories here are better, my favourite being, O Russet Witch, which has a certain charm about it that captures the mood of an affluent 1920's America. Coming in a close second is the equally delightful, but somewhat brutish, May Day, which centres on a mob running through the city, and is the longest story here.
Some of the others were a bit boring, but that's the beauty of short stories I suppose, the good ones stick with you, the others can be quickly forgotten, and you don't end up kicking yourself for wasting too much time.
This is the third selection of short stories I've read this year, diversifying from my usual novels, and it's been a breath of fresh air; something I would heartily recommend you try, especially as we all seem to lead such busy lives these days and have so little time to do the things we really love, (like having the time to escape into the depth of a great book every day).
So, grab a collection that suits you, whether it be a classic like this, something contemporary, like Mark Haddon's The Pier Falls, (Blog review on 30th August), or something dark like Stephen King's, Full Dark, No Stars, and dig in; you won't regret it.
This collection gets a 'reasonably entertaining' three stars.
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on 8 July 2013
Short stories are revealing about an author's ability. Great authors often do not write this genre well, Hemingway being a case in point. He has half a dozen good short stories but the rest fall flat. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, does have a feel for this genre. Perhaps the reason is that many of them are closer to the novella in length, thus giving him enough time to develop a good story and more complete characters. Truth is, few authors, such as O'Henry and Poe, can so deftly sketch a tale so briefly (three to five pages at most). But many like Fitzgerald give us great pleasure in the longer style of the short story. This volume is a worthwhile addition to one's library.
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on 9 July 2009
This is the first time I have read Scott Fitzgerald's work and I think the guy's brilliant. Every short story included is worth a read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 August 2012
Absolutely brilliant writing: Fitzgerald seizes your total interest from the first sentence of each story.
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.'
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Aside from his Modernist masterpiece The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald is chiefly known for his short stories; the titular one here was brought back into the public consciousness after the 2009 movie starring Brad Pitt as the man who is born decrepit and essentially `un-ages' . The story is fantastic - in all senses of the word, and is easily the best thing in this compilation; `The Four Fists' and `Head and Shoulders' are both compelling tales as well; however the remainder are all pretty forgettable, and remind us that this was a star that burned very brightly but for the briefest of moments.
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on 21 October 2013
Another great book, my daughter really enjoyed the film so wanted to read the book.... this is the wrong way round for her!
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on 18 January 2015
Yes....I got this as a stocking filler for my daughter at Christmas and shes enjoying reading it...!
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