It is my ritual to look for the author’s biography or other reviewer’s view about the book after reading a book. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is very curious indeed, as the blog that I stumbled upon are either bloggers who left their blogs after 6 months (which amazed me that I last this long, do you feel the same about your longevity of your blog?), or blogs who reviewed the movie but not the book. In fact, I didn’t come across any in-depth review of the book. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough.
I have no intention to start an in-depth review, and I haven’t watch the movie, but the title of the movie and the fact that Benjamin Button began life as an old man and died as a baby is really very unusual and that when I saw the book at the library shelf, I picked it up in a heartbeat.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and 6 Other Stories contains:
- The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button – needs no introduction!
- Head and Shoulders – about the partnership of a couple, Horace Tarbox of highly mental intelligence (head) marry a woman, Marcia Meadow, a cabaret singer with physical beauty (shoulders) whom in a twist of event, swapped their places as the ‘head and shoulders’ in the marriage.
- The Cut-Glass Bowl – an ill-meant gift who haunts a family’s misfortunes.
- The Four Fists – a man’s fate is shaped by a series of punches to his face.
- May Day –the revelry, mobs and anguish of May Day.
- ‘O Russet Witch!’ is about Merlin Grainger who works in the Moonlight Quill book shop and watches his 19 year-old neighbour, Caroline, moonlighting with shady characters in the night from the window of his room.
- Crazy Sunday – Joel who loves Stella, but Stella only loves her needy husband, Miles.
Interestingly if you are reading the other Penguin classic titled “The Curious case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age stories” you will get a collection of different short stories than the one I have up there.
I was pleasantly surprise that out of all the stories, I thought the most lacklustre ‘in writing’ is the Curious Case of Benjamin Button and May Day. Although the story was glazed over by the Oscar nominated movie and the novelty of an old man growing young, it is written in a matter-of-fact manner and bland. The only thing I felt sorry for is how his family is embarrassed of his perceived folly of living in reverse, and the things that he can’t do because of his age. Don’t get me wrong, this story is good but just lacklustre compared to the other short stories in the book. I thought Benjamin’s inner emotions could be better showcase. How did he feel about living younger, how did he react to his increasing youth, to his family? I really would like to know more about that.
My favourite is the Four Fists and Head and Shoulders. If you noticed I have read a lot of short stories these couple of months, but Fitzgerald’s short stories gave me a reminiscence feel of the Aesop fables. A feel like I should learn something from it. I learnt from Head and Shoulders that when life circumstances changes and if you are the breadwinner, you do anything possible, even if you are doing a job which doesn’t make use of your talent, to bring food to the table everyday. The thought of someone like Horace who can develop both talents that draw from mental and physical prowess, is very liberating. In the cut-glass bowl story, it validates the doubt of my occasional superstition that some items I kept at home might bring about a curse to me. Medieval, I know.
In the Four Fists, Samuel Meredith had one of those faces that people wants to punch at. Not because he is a bad guy, but he is just unlucky to be caught in the wrong moment and in the wrong time. When he got hit the final time,
The next ten minutes were perhaps the hardest of his life. People talk of the courage of convictions, but in actual life a man’s duty to his family may make a rigid course seems a selfish indulgence of his own righteousness. Samuel thought mostly of his family, yet he never really wavered. That jolt had brought him to.
Samuel took every blow to his face graciously because of his nobility. He wanted to avoid being labeled a bully in school, he put himself in the shoe of his attacker and understand the real reason why they felt compel to hit him, because
There’s a caddish streak in every man that runs crosswise across his character and disposition and general outlook. With some men it’s secret and we never know it’s there until they strike us in the dark one night.
If you run your hand along Samuel Meredith’s jaw you’d feel a lump. He admits he’s never been sure which fist left it there, but he wouldn’t lose it for anything. He says there’s no cad like an old cad, and that sometimes just before making a decision, it’s a great help to stroke his chin. The reporters call it a nervous characteristic, but it’s not that. It’s so he can feel again the gorgeous clarity, the lightning sanity of those four fists.
With that reflection, Samuel became a better man.
The 7 short stories do share some similar themes. Story 5, 6 and 7 bear the trademark of The Great Gatsby longing for the love that is hard to reach. Story 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 have a longer time frame, and takes you through the changes that happened to the people in the story as they advanced through age.
The years between thirty-five and sixty-five revolve before the passive mind as one unexplained, confusing merry-go-round. For most men and women these thirty years are taken up with a gradual withdrawal from life, a retreat first from a front with many shelters, those myriad amusements and curiosities of youth, to a line with less, when we peel down our ambitions to one ambition, our recreations to recreation, our friends to a few to whom we are anesthetic; ending up at last in a solitary, desolate strong point that is not strong, where the shells now whistle abominably, now are but half heard as, but turns frightened and tired, we sit awaiting for death.
I think Fitzgerald is a first rate story teller. His short stories are all very intriguing, ironic and most ended with regret. I feel the central theme of the book is quite zen-like actually. It tells me things that may seem desirable at one point of your life, do not hold true in another point of your life. A person that you most desire may turn out to be undesirable once you knew the wicked truth.
I would give another Fitzgerald work a try. If I pick another book from Fitzgerald it would be “Tender is the Night” or I could watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button movie next. 🙂
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics [originally published 1922, this edition 2008]; Length: 202 pages; Setting: 1920’s. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 24 May 2010
I’m reading this for the Classic Read challenge. Interestingly, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is getting the top most blog hits over the past few weeks and I’m not sure why……
Did you read this book or see the movie? What did you think about it?