Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The past--the wild charge at the head of his men up San Juan Hill; the first years of his marriage when he worked late into the summer dusk down in the busy city for young Hildegarde whom he loved; the days before that when he sat smoking far into the night in the gloomy old Button house on Monroe Street with his grandfather-all these had faded like unsubstantial dreams from his mind as though they had never been. He did not remember.

Surely I'm not the only one who, upon seeing the trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, didn't realize it was based on a short story at all, let alone one by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like most Americans, The Great Gatsby is the only thing I've actually read by him. A shame, really, since he's a fantastic writer, certainly one of the most economical prose stylists of all time, and Benjamin Button is a great example.

I haven't seen the movie, but I can only imagine that half of it is made up whole cloth. The novel--novella, really--is under 100 pages and has nary a wasted word. It hardly could, since it covers Benjamin's entire life from cradle to grave, although not necessarily in that order. During this time, he falls in love, carouses about town, goes to war twice, attends college, and manages to alienate his entire family, although SPOILER he wins some of them back over.

Rather than being the serious drama I expected, Benjamin Button is surprisingly light-hearted until its final third where it takes an inevitably darker turn. The story seems to turn the old adage "If only I'd known then what I know now" on its head. Benjamin Button is given a priceless gift--youth with wisdom--but, of course, he doesn't use it wisely.

1 comment:

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Oh for sure 90% of it is made up. The crotchety humor of Ben is even lost. I know 100 pages isn't much to work with, so pretty much all they took from it was the idea that he is in fact aging backwards. The movie is just its own separate thing, however worth seeing. Nice post.