You may still be experiencing some residual depression from the fact that you were all hyped up about the big Baz Luhrmann movie of The Great Gatsby that was supposed to come out in December, and had to cope with the disappointment that it will not hit the big screen until May. Like dealing with one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s debutantes, it felt like too much potential excitement and too little follow through. Oh, the cruelty of being teased.
No worries. You just cheer yourself right up and get one of those oversized calendars and start marking the days until May when that movie comes out. I know, I am really sad that Luhrmann did not use that delay to rethink Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, but they wouldn’t take my calls and so there is nothing I can do about that. I am also vaguely puzzled that they had to hire a British actress to play Daisy Fay Buchanan, and that makes me nervous, but I guess I have two words for that situation: Vivien Leigh.
But this I know for sure: Leonardo DiCaprio will not let me down. I. Can’t. Wait.
In the meantime, here are six other doses of F. Scott Fitzgerald that might suffice until May 10th, 2013, because Fitzgerald did a lot of other great things in addition to The Great Gatsby.
1. Read This Side of Paradise, which was the “college novel” that shocked readers and focused on Fitzgerald’s days at Princeton University. When I read this book the first time, the most interesting part was observing Amory Blaine negotiate one scrape after another, and in a sense, it still is. Almost every time Amory is alone with a girl, the Devil shows up. I kid you not. I cannot wait to give this book to my son Christopher before he goes to high school: I am going to tell him it is realism. This is the book that made Fitzgerald famous.
2. “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”
I have no idea if this is true or not, but I sure wish I had written it. This is from the early part of Fitzgerald’s long short story (really a novellette of sorts) called The Rich Boy, and it is one of the best things he ever wrote. Plus I love the fact that he wrote it on the island of Capri while waiting for The Great Gatsby to be published. I think I will reread it for the ninetieth time while waiting approximately ninety days for Baz Luhrmann to come through with this film. 3D, we are told. I am ready.
3. You can prepare for all the emotional pyrotechnics that are part of the deal when watching men and women interact in a Fitzgerald story or novel. For example, you can read all about Judy Jones and the number she does on Dexter Green in the excellent short story “Winter Dreams.” Fitzgerald asks the reader to consider her authenticity quotient when he asks the reader “Was she sincerely moved–or was she carried along by the wave of her own acting?” Good question to have in your head when dealing with others, oh, say, every single day. I would tell you the end of the story, but it isn’t so sad in the recount, you have to read it firsthand. Don’t murder to dissect with this one.
4. You could start planning some really cool trips. First stop: the glorious south of France in May, where the big Gatsby film will OPEN THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL! You better figure out what on earth you are going to wear. Then you can plan on an American fall in Alabama, Zelda Fitzgerald’s home state, for the Twelfth International F. Scott Fitzgerald Society Conference and hear Fitzgerald scholars from all over the world talk about his life and works from November 6-10th in Montgomery, Alabama this fall. You can find more details at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society web page,(www.fscottfitzgeraldsociety.org), but Montgomery was important to Fitzgerald as that was where he met his wife, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, and the only Fitzgerald museum in the world is located there.
5. Read his fantastic other masterpiece, Tender is the Night, and see how far beyond The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald was able to go. Focusing on the glamorous Dick and Nicole Diver, Fitzgerald channels his own personal issues into the story of a brilliant psychiatrist who must face the pressures of marriage and mental illness–two sources of profound conflict in Fitzgerald’s own life. The prose is magnificent, and life on the French Riviera among American expatriates is more difficult than it looks. You will never forget this book, except when you are seeing the Gatsby movie in May, because the colors are so bright in those trailers, it will be hard to concentrate on anything else. Apparently, capital “Y” Yellow will be symbolic whether you want it to be or not. And that music….well, it might work so the jury is out until I see the entire film….
6. You can read Fitzgerald’s last, unfinished, Hollywood novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon (although when I was growing up, it was just called The Last Tycoon, so I will always have that in my head, and they even made a movie version of it with Robert DeNiro.) Fitzgerald is a writer’s writer, and was working on this book even when he died in December of 1940 at the age of 44. Although he suffered from alcoholism, he was in the thick of moving forward when he unexpectedly dropped dead from a heart attack. For both readers and writers, this is inspiring. He would have done more great things, and he did not quit, even in the midst of difficulty. As Fitzgerald wrote in “A Hundred False Starts,” a March 1933 piece for the Saturday Evening Post :
“Mostly, we authors repeat ourselves–that’s the truth. We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives–experiences so great and so moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.
Then we learn our trade, well or less well, and we tell our two or three stories–each time in a new disguise–maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen.”
The thing about Fitzgerald’s best novels and stories–repetitions or not–was that they were consistently glimmering and memorable. It does not matter that his subjects or themes are similar: it is the style in which they are delivered that has given Fitzgerald his well-deserved place in literary history. Let’s hope that Baz Lurhmann’s brave foray into another translation of The Great Gatsby onto the screen can do Fitzgerald’s lyricism its due justice.