Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book 1- "The Beautiful and Damned" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I am presented with a plate of food, whether at home, at a restaurant, or at a family gathering, I like to eat my least favorite thing first and my favorite last, so that when I am finished and full, the taste of the least favorite thing has been sufficiently smothered by the lingering taste of the favorite thing. That’s the way I approached my book list—I combed it for something I was fairly certain I wouldn’t like first, just to get it out of the way. Thus, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In high school, I was tasked with reading “The Great Gatsby.” All I heard was how prolific, how symbolic, how classic “Gatsby” was, and I was completely let down. What a droll, self-indulgent, BORING piece of literature! So when I came up with the idea of reading 52 classics in a year, my mind went back to Fitzgerald. Although I couldn’t force myself to reread “Gatsby”—I was old enough when I read it the first time to know that I won’t like it any better now—I chose another of his well-reviewed books, included in one of the “50 Classics” collections on my Nook.

“The Beautiful and Damned” is about Anthony Patch, an orphan raised by his very wealthy grandfather. He is largely a loner growing up, and maintains only a small group of friends when he goes to Harvard, who remain friends into his adulthood. He decides not to work after college, feeling that there is nothing worth doing because life is meaningless; he instead decides to live off of the interest money he collects from his dead mother’s estate. This continues until he meets Gloria, a very self-centered, self-indulgent debutante from Kansas. A match made in Heaven, they eventually marry, and flit around the country spending money, drinking, and partying. After several years, they are discontent in their marriage and would probably have divorced, had Anthony not been drafted; the year they spend apart while he is in the military reawakens their interest in one another and when he returns, they pick up where they left off. The economy, however, has taken a dive, and the interest money is no longer enough to sustain their lavish lifestyle. Anthony “looks” for a job but finds nothing— instead, he turns once again to drinking, and at this point in the story becomes a pretty serious alcoholic. His grandfather, a Prohibitionist, cuts Anthony out of his will and then dies; Anthony and Gloria contest the will, lose the case, appeal, lose, appeal, etc. All the while, Anthony’s alcoholism is getting worse, Gloria is finally growing up but is reluctant to leave Anthony because she does not want to have to work, and the two continue partying every night to forget their problems, then resenting each other the next morning. Finally, at the end of the book, they win their court case and Anthony is awarded millions of dollars from his grandfather’s estate, but his alcoholism has taken its toll and he has basically gone mad. The book ends with Anthony as a 30-something wheelchair bound nutcase and Gloria operating basically as his very, very well paid nurse.

So I get it. The moral of the story is two-fold: money can’t buy happiness, and love built solely on beauty doesn’t last. Two very valid points, but two points that Fitzgerald fails to hit on hard enough to give the reader the “a-ha!” moment of realization; instead, I was left depressed, angry, bored, and disappointed. It’s hard to stay interested in a story with two completely unlikable main characters; Anthony is grumpy, selfish, and judgmental, and Gloria is dimwitted, narcissistic, and bossy. The beginning of their marriage is full of indulgence and entitlement, and after only about two years their marriage is full of resentment, bitterness, and bickering. I never had that moment where I felt bad for them, or felt that they had a moment where they realized what their selfishness had cost them; even in the moments where they admit to themselves and each other that they are the cause of their own ruination, you never get the feeling that they actually regret anything but the money drying up.

Really, Fitzgerald? I see what you were going for here, but I’d kind of rather have the six or so hours of my life back.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I'm going to like these mini book reviews. It'll help me decide IF I want to read any of them.