The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I do recommend this book. I do not, however, recommend reading this book while first packing up your entire life into storage, moving to a new state, unpacking a fraction of your life onto a boat, enrolling your two-year-old in a new school, and then enrolling in a new school yourself.  Because, if you do that, just like me, your experience with this book will be more damned than beautiful.

The only novel of Fitzgerald’s I had read was…drumroll, please…you’ll never guess…did you guess yet?…The Great Gatsby!  (Were you right?)  As every high school student with half a brain knows, it’s a great book.  So when Drew and I watched Midnight in Paris, I felt like I had to read something else of his.  I actually looked high and low for Zelda’s book about their relationship, but it’s not available on my Kindle, and I already had this one downloaded for free, so…Scott won.  I’m so sorry, Zelda — I promise you I won’t let him have the last word.

I spent the first part of the book being fascinated by what an emotional writer he is — phrases of a few words would make me feel like I had known that character my whole life, or sometimes, as though he was actually writing about an experience I had.  But it was all so sad.  Not like I didn’t expect that from Mr. Fitzgerarld, but…so sad.  Or maybe sad isn’t the right word — something else.  Nostalgic for the past with the knowledge that you can never go back or change it.  Of course, that’s not one word, so we’ll settle for “sad.”  It starts with just hints at it:

It seemed a tragedy to want nothing–and yet he wanted something, something.  He knew in flashes what it was–some path of hope to lead him toward what he thought was an imminent and ominous old age.

Not so bad if it just stopped there.  But it doesn’t — he searches for what’s most true and unavoidable about the continuation of time and decides to make you consider it before you can move on to the next plot point.

There’s no beauty without poignancy and there’s no poignancy without the feeling that it’s going, men, names, books, houses — bound for dust — mortal…

It is in the twenties that the actual momentum of life begins to slacken, and it is a simple soul indeed to whom as many things are significant and meaningful at thirty as at ten years before.

In his moments of insecurity he was haunted by the suggestion that life might be, after all, significant.

…that illusion of young romantic love to which women look forever forward and forever back.

Are you still here?  Haven’t decided that F. Scott has shown you how dreadful life can be, even if it is so wonderful at the same time?  Haven’t decided that that means you need to go out right now and make your life more meaningful or that it’s just not worth it anymore?

I loved the juxtapositions in this novel — beauty, significance, damnedness — powerful in a self-reflective way that was not altogether welcome at this moment in my life.  BUT!  Now that a few months have passed since I’ve finished it, and the election turned out well, and the momentum of life is picking up rather than beginning to “slacken,” the book is now a tender reminder of all the difficulties a life can bring.  You can’t turn back the clock, just like Gloria and Anthony lamented — but you can wind it up again.   And their tragedy is that they never figured that out.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. bethandsteve
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 19:52:43

    Well, your life certainly isn’t slackening in your 30’s! Perhaps back then 30 was the new 60.

    Reply

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