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July 14, 1979 - Image 10

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Michigan Daily, 1979-07-14

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Page 10-Saturday, July 14, 1979-The Michigan Daily

Fitzgerald collection a success

THE PRICE WAS HIGH: The last un-
collectedEStories of F. Scott Fitzgerald;
edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli; Har-
court Brace Janovich, New York and
London; 784 pages; $19.95.
The first time I noticed more about F.
Scott Fitzgerald than his name on a
reading list next to The Great Gatsby
was on the front page of the New York
Times Book Review, in 1963, when I was
21. His letters had just been published. I
recall the myth which emerged from
the review quite vividly, that even
though Fitzgerald had been a fiction
writer of some merit, he was of more
interest as a tragically flawed per-
sonality. The reviewer insisted that he
had squandered his talent, and possibly
driven his wife crazy through reckless
living and excessive drinking. His
legend seemed almost Byronic to me
then, oddly out of synchronization with
society at large. It was not only his
allegedly insatiable attempts to drown
his eternal angst with the bottle, but the
fact that he seemed foolishly poetic
about women, eccentrically brash in
public, and hopelessly cursed with a
talent he could not endure. Of course, I
had not yet read his work. However,
this romantic myth of the tragic hero,
F. Scott Fitzgerald, remains with us
today asa fact of mass media culture.
The truth is something altogether
more complex. All in all, he served his
talent very well. He worked a daily
schedule as a professional writer right
up to the end of his life. In fact, the con-
troversy that surrounds his life arises
from his good fortune in having ex-
ploited a very fine talent, while
simultaneously struggling with a

broken, traumatic marriage and
fragile health, neither of the latter all
that rare. There is something demented
about a society that can produce a
writer as successful as Fitzgerald, then
bestow upon him a reputation for'
failure and tragedy. If Fitzgerald was a
failure, then God help us all.
AS A SHORT story writer in the
English language, Fitzgerald was
among the best of his era. I've read
about 125 of the 164 stories which he
wrote - with the exception of five fluke
failures, they are all roughly of the
same caliber of concentrated excellen-
ce. The Price Was High contains 50
stories which will satisfy the average
reader. Yet, in an odd way, perhaps
because there are far more stories in
this volume than in any other, perhaps
because these are reputedly the lesser
stories, this book carries a weight and
balance that measures Fitzgerald's
career at its roots. No critic who
trained to write fiction through careful
study of Fitzgerald's entire opus, and
then went on to study the biography of
Scott and Zelda, would be likely to deny
that, asa mirror of his era, asa study of
a character immersed in society, Fit-
zgerald's work is unsurpassed in
American letters. These stories cer-
tainly strenghten that claim.
FItzgerald cultivated many short
story conventions that entertain the
reader. He played with contrived plots,
and often withheld information early in
the narrative in order to add an element
of surprise later. Contrary to some
critical opinion, these techniques do not
necessarily detract from the enduring
value of a story. Yet much of the
criticism of the stories in the book
focuses on "happy endings" produced
for the Saturday Evening Post, as if the
concentrated intelligence directed into
the development of his characters did
not reverse the quackery of his con-
trived endings into an ironic second
guess about the outcome.
IN FACT, the excellent quality of Fit-
zgerald's work does not originate in

questions of technique. He lost the
ability to turn out these so-called
"slick" stories in 1935 and '36, just when-
his understanding of craft was most
developed. The mystery of Fitzgerald's
talent, perhaps of all talent, ran clear
into the depths of his flesh, into the
daily patterns of his lifestyle. It was
inherent in his stance toward the world.
The funniest and most romantic of the
stories are the early ones, written
before 1922. As his youthful exuberance
and spontaneity dissipated, his stories
began to reflect the problems of older
characters. Then along with the Crash
of '29, Zelda suffered her first break-
down and institutionalization. After
1930, many of his short works reflected
the enduring conflict with his wife and
the hardship of economic depression.
Each story in The Price Was High is
introduced with a couple of paragraphs
by the editor, Matthew Bruccoli. Often,
he quotes from letters or other referen-
ces which pertain to the stories'
background, such as place of com-
position, biographical tidbits, etc. One
story, "Her Last Case," was omitted
from another collection at the last
moment. Here is an excerpt of the letter
Fitzgerald wrote to Maxwell Perkins,
his editor at Scribners, explaining his
reason for the omission:
"The real thing that decided me
about "Her Last Case" was that it was
a place story and just before seeing it in
published form I ran across Thomas
Wolfe's "The House of the Far and
Lost" and I thought there was no chan-
ce of competing with him on the same
subject, when he had brought off such a
triumph. There would inevitably have
been invidious comparisons. If my
story had anything to redeem it, except
atmosphere, I would not hesitate to in-
clude it, but most of it depends on a
mixture of hysteria and sentiment -
anyhow, I did not decide without some
I was curious enough to hunt down
Wolfe's story. Fitzgerald could not have
been entirely accurate about the
inevitable "invidiousacomparison"
between the two pieces of fiction.
Wolfe's piece is a series of melancholy
vignettes in the life of Eugene Gant in
England. Wolfe's florid and profuse
prose strains for much different effects
than "Her Last Case" which is set in
Virginia, does. In most respects, the
two works differ sharply. Wolfe does
not concern himself with the day-to-day
continuity of events in the hero's life,
whereas Fitzgerald always maintains
an active story line, in this case, "Will
the nurse-heroine be able to love the
hero?" Perhaps Fitzgerald felt that he
had betrayed his real experience with a
romantic optimism, and that Wolfe had
not. Eugene Gant's relations with the
opposite sex are pitifully incomplete.
Like Eugene Gant, the hero of "Her
Last Case," Ben Dragonet, is a broken,
solitary individual. The nurse who
visits him does seem to bring a fan-
tastic salvation. But even if Fitzgerald
had regretted his happy ending, he
could have changed it to a hopeless
story by altering several words in the
last sentence, "She was worrying how
she could most kindly break the news to
Howard that her last case was going to
last forever." Had the name been
"Ben" instead of "Howard," had "one
week" been substituted for "forever,"
it would mean the hero had lost, not
won, the love of the nurse.
THE ENDURING traits of Fit-
zgerald's stories recall thedistinction

sometimes made between the short
story schools of de Maupassant and
Chekhov. In the former, as in Fit-
zgerald's, there is a strong story line, a
resolved plot, events which are
sometimes summarized quickly, and
characters who develop through action.
In the latter, the narration inclines to
the episodic, to the slice of life, and to
the expression of subtle changes in
mood or attitude in the character. The
"stream of consciousness" or detailed
internal perspective of a single charac-
ter does not appear at all in Fit-
zgerald's work. In this respect, he was
a mainstream American, without much
confidence in the product of an in-
telligence that was not pragmatic about
ambition, status, and work.
The only first-person piece, "The
Bowl", develops in a lively college at-
mosphere at Princeton, while telling
the story of a classic football hero,
Dolly Harlan, the narrator's room-
mate. In retrospect, the narrator
relates how Harlan played football in
his senior year, even though he had not
fully recovered from a broken ankle
and though his cosmopolitan fiancee
threw him over because she disliked
football. In the climactic big game in
the Yale Bowl of the title, Harlan scores
the touchdown which brings the under-
dog Princeton eleven a tie. At several
points in this story, I was reminded that
Fitzgerald is sometimes said to have in-
fluenced Salinger. The narrator's
cagey attitude toward Harlan's
aggressive, manlike traits and his ad-
mitted heartfelt need for participation
in the team spirit, show the generosity
which helped to make Fitzgerald an
outstanding writer.
In closing, I would advise any serious
reader to ignore the verdict that these
stories are "uneven in quality" or "of
lesser quality." Fitzgerald did not have
Faulkner's experimental emphasis, nor
Lawrence's intensely fanatic reach
towards the roots of the unconscious.
He was not as likely to uncover the
rhythmic subtleties and geometric per-
spectives that cast the reader toward
the formal possibilities of literature as
he was to invite one to contemplate a
real society. In this sense, his variety is
not due to his sycophantic comprehen-
sion of literary form; but rather to his
sense of duty to set characters in a lived
drama, with roles that comprehend the
full demands placed upon the human
The piano and flute works of Franz
Schubert canbe heard live tonight in
the Union's Pendleton Room. Piano
doctoral student Andrew Anderson will
host a guest floutist, and the two will
play both individually and as a duo.
In addition to Schubert's works, a
new composition by former U. student
Laurie Clayton will be performed. The
concert begins at 7:30 and will last ap-
proximately an hour. Admission is

Felch Park Entertainment by Orchestra Members
by Alice
Opens Tonight 8pm uch
Hpy Ado
Fever AA b ut
WyiNoelld- NnA g
Coward by William
July 13-22 & Aug. 1-5
Power Center Box Office opens at 6pm. 763-3333. Mi. Rep '79
Ticket Office: weekdays noon to 5 in the Michigan League.
764-0450 # ? .-

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