Saturday, September 13, 2014

Recently Read: Flappers and Philosophers, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Like most any short story collection, the quality of Flappers and Philosophers is hit and miss. It must be taken into account that most of these stories, published in book form in 1920, were written for and/or published in The Saturday Evening Post, and so were tailored and fashioned to appeal to that market and meet one strict goal: to sell and generate income. Within those boundaries, though, this collection contains some fine and experimental writing, creating works more coherent and consistent than most of Fitzgerald's novels.

Not having read Fitzgerald short stories before, I was surprised by the variety of subject matter and tone in the book. Two stories, Benediction and The Cut-Glass Bowl, reveal that Fitzgerald could have made a career writing the sort of supernatural-tinged psychological dramas published in Weird Tales magazine (which began being published in 1923). The Cut-Glass Bowl, in particular, is like Douglas Sirk meets H.P. Lovecraft.

The Ice Palace and Bernice Bobs Her Hair are two of the strongest stories; both have been filmed and hold up strongly after ninety years. The Ice Palace has a very strong sense of place and atmosphere.

Other stories are of lesser quality. The Offshore Pirate (also filmed) seemed too manipulative and also suffered from casual racism. Head and Shoulders is a whimsical one-note twister which failed to win me.

Knowing a bit of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's lives, I found much of the material autobiographical in a real raw, exposed way: the visit to the Confederate graveyard, the fiancee's visit up North, the reversal of roles in Head and Shoulders...these events and many more nearly took me "out of the story" as they so clearly mirror the Fitzgeralds' actions and feelings (to be fair, the novels function the same way). What my reaction to the fiction would be if I wasn't aware of those correlations, I can't say.

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