Tuesday, October 28, 2014

tall, restless virgins


May came too soon, and, suddenly unable to bear walls, he wandered the campus at all hours through starlight and rain.
--This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald 
 
Recently, I have grown fascinated with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Partially because his prose is mellifluous, fresh, lucid, limpid, light, liquid, fluid, malleable, translucent, and lush. It is rich and delicate, airy and cerebral, charged with vague threads of passion and decadent overtures of sweetness, and spicy aromas of nostalgia, flavored with sharp twinges of regret, whose loud bursts are softly hidden behind the muffling veil of hedonism. This is the first and certainly the foremost reason. 

But secondly, because I am fascinated by an author whose work so obviously, unabashedly, and beautifully borrows from the narrative of his own life. This is a magical aspect of Fitzgerald that is missing in the only exposure a large swath of the popular reading culture has with my fellow Minnesotan, by which I mean, of course, The Great Gatsby. It is strange and thrilling to read Tender is the Night and find in Nicole a facsimile of the pitiable and awe-ful Zelda. It is fascinating to think of how much of Dick Diver is Fitzgerald himself, and how much is wish-fulfillment writing. It is tragic to see in the Divers storylines that wove through the Fitzgeralds' lives: tragedies they lived through, themes their instruments sang, and also happinesses that were never theirs.
How clever of Francis Scott to discover that in writing a story we can recast our lives into a sweeter and more shapely mold.

And perhaps I read The Great Gatsby when I was in a bad temper, or a daze, or preoccupied with other thoughts besides the ones presented to me on the page, but I have not found in that book the richness of language and the turns of phrases that populate of the rest of his canon.  But I currently do not like The Great Gatsby, less because of its artistic merits or demerits, and more out of spite. Because I resent the fact that it is the only Fitzgerald that most of our young minds are exposed to, and I neglected to educate myself more thoroughly about this author, because of my ambivalence towards his "seminal work." So it is out of my good graces at the moment. But perhaps (and by "perhaps" I mean "certainly"), I am due for a re-read and a new visit with Nick and Nora and the rest.

And then there's This Side of Paradise: whose storyline is unabashedly affected by his romance with Zelda, and yet is still so hopeful, still so young. It is a Fitzgerald (for although his protagonist's name is Amory Blaine, I can only read the book as if it were Francis Fitzgerald) before Gatsby, before Tender is the Night, on the cusp of the Jazz Age. He is still innocent, still graced with a touch of idealistic sobriety. It is so touching and effective because Fitzgerald's life is so woven into his stories. Because his voice is so prominent in Gatsby, in Tender in the Night, because his own cynicism and his pain are blended into his romantic poetry and his stories, it is a treat to see the romantic poetry before the cynicism. It is one of those rare gifts that writing gives us: the ability to see into someone's past, to witness a form of them that no longer exists.
The style of the book is playful, carefree, uncommitted to one particular structure or form, and is poignant, because it is the work of a young man desperate to express--in exactly the right word, exactly the right turn-of-phrase-- the poetry that he is certain inhabits every fiber of his world. He crystallizes in amber the world of undergraduate university study: full of green quads, and poems in magazines, and nights writing letters in a small dorm room. And he captures this world so eloquently and to such great effect because it is his world.

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