These tributes we write week on week can be quite tiresome. Often, we aren’t saying anything that hasn’t already been said. As for the writing we have to find the right balance between admiration and restraint. This means we can never do the written word equivalent of taking our T-shirts off and throwing them onto a metaphorical stage. Okay, we’d never do that. But with heroes like Fitzgerald, it can get pretty touch and go.
If you haven’t read any Fitzgerald or worse, are undecided about his awesomeness, (All sorts to make this world, I tell you), read on. First order of the business of being a legend – the writing. Fitzgerald is the author you read if you want to fall in love with language. He uses words to make shapes and sounds and he paints scenes so vivid, you wonder whether you were actually there. His stories are so damn visual that the written word becomes a captivating technicolour action film. And that’s me speaking as a representative of my generation,with its short attention spans and impatience. Dialogue is never just dialogue – it’s sharp insight into a characters soul.
And the characters, they’re so terribly lovely. His protagonists shimmer. Wholesome people are staid and boring; for Fitzgerald, only the fabulous will do. There is only room for the deeply beautiful, the deeply damaged. A Fitzgerald’s character is the last glass of heady wine that you probably shouldn’t have had and which you will definitely regret in the morning. He’s the comely, flirtatious, too smooth-to-be-true guy at the bar. Larger than life. Fantastic. Adventurous.
Fitzgerald has been hailed for chronicling the jazz age. I wasn’t alive then so I couldn’t say that he did or didn’t but if the jazz age was anything like the world he portrays in his books then gimme some of that. Pulsing hot music, massive lawn parties, swing dances, beaded fringed dresses, flappers, cigarette holders, women who throw their heads back when they laugh, suave men who light your cigarette, refill your martini glass and open the car door for you. Still, despite the thrill of the world he paints, he manages to show the hollowness of its core. As a writer, he skilfully builds us up, to dash us cruelly down. Just like his characters, we revel at the height of good fortune and then we cry when we fall from grace. If like me, you enjoy books and films that make you cry with their portrayal of poignancy, truth and beauty, then you’ll be a sucker for Fitzgerald.
You know how at some point all of us have said some version of, “Well, wait till I’m rich and famous. Then you guys can suck it.”? Fitzgerald actually accomplished this. Except, in his case he did it for a chick. That’s right. This side of paradise, happened because the beautiful Zelda Sayre turned him down. He wrote it in the three years he was enlisted, and surprise, surprise, it was genius. He shot to fame. Zelda agreed to get with him. Boom. And now that we’ve raked out the trivia, key plot points and some fantastic dialogue was taken word for word from the writers life, so much so that he said once, “Sometimes I don’t know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we’re characters from one of my books.” Which means, if we were ever to meet him in real life, he’d be every bit as awesome as his work.
Martin Amis said that when we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is that we love about half of it. That much is true. I’ve read The great Gatsby, the Beautiful and the Damned and Tender is the night. I loved the first two enough to want to have their babies. Tender is the night, on the other hand, was a disappointment. Sure, there were a couple of classic moments, (A Fitzgerald bad is still pretty good,) but it sounded like he was trying too hard. The narrative tone is defeatist, tired before its characters tire, disillusioned, discontent, despairing. And if you think about it, he was all of these things when he was writing the book. Somehow, this makes me like him even more. He is his characters. He’s beautiful, he’s flawed. He’s Dick Diver, brilliant but tired of it all too soon, he’s the arrogant Gloria Patch and her cowardly husband Anthony. His life reflects itself vividly in his art. Beautiful and crushing. Grand but terribly sad and hopeless.