My main literary squeeze, no more

I’ve always answered “Fitzgerald” when anybody has asked me who my favorite author is, and it’s mostly out of habit since I started doing so in high school. But when you’re in high school, any answer you have to anything means nothing when you’re an adult :P

I’ve read a lot of Fitzgerald’s writing, but that’s slowed down a lot in the last few years because my fiction reading habit slowed down a lot ever since college. I read so much history and journalistic writing in college that I no longer have a fiction-reading habit. I naturally gravitate to more history and more non-fiction these days and I feel like I don’t have a proper gauge on what’s good fiction.

To remedy that, I decided to read this collection of shorts from Fitzgerald that has been sitting on my shelf for a while. It’s a tiny collection of four short stories and only a little more than a hundred pages, but it took me what felt like forever to finish it.

I still very much enjoy Fitzgerald’s writing style, though I can also completely see why a lot of people don’t — it can be a little much, and oftentimes straddling the fine line between “just right” and “pretentious” — but I’m still a fan.

What is getting to me — and why I can’t really say that he’s my “favorite” author with a clear conscience — is the subject of his stories. Fitzgerald is an author whose writing is very defined by class and a very specific zenith in American history. Reading a lot of his stuff now, I find it kind of hard to grasp, a little offensive, very confined and unrelatable to.

You can say that all work can, to a certain extent, be like this, but it just feels like Fitzgerald’s worldview is very limited and that he knows very little outside of the richness of white Americans during America’s Jazz Age. And I honestly have more a problem with white-centric stories doing this than I do with minority-centric stories, especially white stories that are written about white Americans at the height of their richness, well-being, greatness, all of which came at the expense of non-whites.

But nonetheless, when I read Fitzgerald, I still get a sense of bewilderment sometimes at the way he manages to phrase things and form sentences. It’s kind of magical.

Some random lines that I really loved in The Sensible Thing, The Bridal Party, Magnetism, and Bernice Bobs Her Hair:

He was in a mess, one of the terrific messes which are ordinary incidents in the life of the poor, which follow poverty like birds of prey. The poor go under or go up or go wrong or even go on, somehow, in a way the poor have–but George O’Kelley was so new to poverty that had any one denied the uniqueness of his case he would have been astounded.

(Do you see what I mean by ‘hard to relate to’ and ‘offensive’?)

Well, let it pass, he thought; April is over, April is over. There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.

Under his hat his brow sweated with the humiliation of the fact that for all his misery he was worth just exactly so many invitations…

Then it happened — Caroline saw deep into him, and Michael knew that she saw. She saw through to his profound woundedness, and something quivered inside her, died out along the curve of her mouth and in her eyes. He had moved her. All the unforgettable impulses of first love had surged up once more; their hearts had in some way touched across two feet of Paris sunlight. She took her fiance’s arm suddenly, as if to steady herself with the feel of it.

Michael glanced up nervously as four people came in. He felt suddenly that his dinner coat was old and shiny; he had ordered a new one that morning. The people who had come in were rich and at home in their richness with one another — a dark, lovely girl with a little hysterical little laugh whom he had met before; two confident men whose jokes referred invariably to last night’s scandal and tonight’s potentialities, as if they had important roles in a play that extended indefinitely into the past and the future.

Michael was cured. The ceremonial function, with its pomp and its revelry, had stood for a sort of initiation into a life where even his regret could not follow them. All the bitterness melted out of him suddenly and the world reconstituted itself out of the youth and happiness that was all around him…

George smiled at her, faintly, fleetingly, tearing a veil from between them, unconsciously promising her a possible admission to the thousand delights and wonders that only he knew and could command.

(Image via Bernice Bobs Her Hair)