Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Beautiful and the Damned, In Our Time

I was just getting started in a Mark Helprin book when i realized that i might die tomorrow and would have been reading Helprin while there was still Fitzgerald i hadn't read. So i swapped up for The Beautiful and the Damned. Like most of Fitzgerald, it deals with the trials, vanities, sins, etc, of the very rich, who can sometimes be difficult to work up much empathy for. Fortunately, also like most of Fitzgerald, the writing is excellent.

Basically it's the story of a rich young man and the gorgeous young woman he marries, neither of whom ever bother to develop a career, or even a job or even a skill for that matter, choosing instead to lead a life of wild dissipation under the expectance of an avuncular inheritance of railway baron proportions. Our heros's initial wad of cash dwindles rapidly, the young man becomes an alchoholic, the dissipation grows ever wilder, and finally the uncle dies but has taken a turn for the philanthropic and religious in his sunset years, and punitively leaves them not a cent. Our heros contest the will and get more desperate, more alchoholic, more dysfunctional, and older. Finally things are truly awful. Like they're craping together five dollars for milk but of course the young man spends it on rye, and finally we have a scene where the hero is reduced to a state of literally infantile misery, sitting on the floor bawling, when we learn that after like four years the appeal of the initial contesting of the will has been upheld, the will is broken, and our bawling babe owns a gazillion dollars. But! It's too late. He's never right in the head again. We presume his wife has lots of affairs.

So it's a tale of downfall and squalor, and along the way it occured to me that altho Hemingway's characters also suffer greatly and fall down and do shitty things and have shitty things done to them, somehow the big H. always gives the characters a sense of dignity. I always feel that H. cradles each of his characters in his hands, holding them close to his chest, even tho terrible things are happening to them. But there's a distance between Fitzgerald and his characters, and sometimes a sense of cruelty. For example, here is a passage in which the young wife has decided that one of them *has* to get a job, and she's applied as a movie actress with a man who years ago doted on her and begged her to be in film, but whom she has more or less jilted in favour of the hero. Some days after her tryout, the 29-year old Gloria gets this letter from the man who once sought her hand:
My Dear Gloria:
We had the test [film] run off yesterday afternoon, and Mr. Debris seemed to think that for the part he had in mind he needed a younger woman. He said that the acting was not bad, and that there was a small character part supposed to be a very haughty rich widow that he thought you might --

Desolately Gloria raised her glance until it fell out across the areaway. But she found she could not see the opposite wall, for her gray eyes were full of tears.

Hemingway is likely to have the exact same thing happen to Gloria, but he wouldn't drag her pain thru the streets like that. Don't get me wrong, i love Fitzgerald, and i know this is a book intending to stab at the rich, it's just interesting. Especially as they were buddies.

.. Which led me to re-read Hemingway's In Our Time, a short collection of short stories. Actually i'm not sure i've read it before, but i've definitely read the stories before. They cover a bunch of the Nick Adams stories, My Old Man, which is a portrait of a crooked jockey from his loving son's point of view, various other gems, all of which are punctuated by single-paragraph stories generally illustrating humanity at its worst. It's a wonderful book, see my impression above of H. cradling his characters in his hands.
I need to re-read For Whom the Bell Tolls soon.

Words in The Beautiful and the Damned
soup├žonp.92 (this word is awesome)
rillp.358 (rivulet)
caravan seriesp.365
continuityp.399 "he produced a typewritten continuity"
"yeast" fortunep.415
gin rickeyp.421
Words in In Our Time
none, really


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