Wednesday, January 18, 2012

book review: The Rich Boy by F.Scott Fitzgerald

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where they we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are."

Fitzgerald knows how to tell a story. He knows how to introduce a reader to am world of the very rich. But he also knows how to deliver in the short story format, which is something he does again here well in these three stories.

The title story follows the life of Anson Hunter, a very rich man who struggles to value true love. Finding someone to love him is not too difficult but realising its real, not something that can be bought and replaced, is something he understands only after he has lost it. B ut this is a man not used to losing anything so he carries on looking to find or even better the love he has thrown away.

just as you think he has realised his mistakes, particularly when he is confronted by the past, he throws off the depression and listlessness that might befall people without his background and sets off again on the merry-go round of courting someone unable to give him the genuine love he needs.

Love is the theme again in The Bridal Party as an American living in Paris comes face-to-face with his old lover. Michael Curly stumbles across Caroline as she strolls along with her fiance and over the course of a few days he manages to befriend her again after a gap and declare his love. Her husband-to-be loses his considerable fortune in the 1929 stock market crash just as the wedding draws near. But this is still not a chance for Curly to get his girl back.

He comes into some inheritance but he doesn't have the luck or the imagination of the rich man who has fallen on hard times who looks like not only bouncing back immediately but also getting his girl.

"This show will cost Ham about five thousand dollars, and I understand they'll be just about his last. But did he countermand a bottle of champagne or a flower? Not he! He happens to have it - that young man. Do you know that T.G. Vance offered him a salary of fifty thousand dollars a year ten minutes before the wedding this morning? In another year he'll be back with the millionaires."

The final story, The Last of the Belles, is also about love and the mess that some people get into. An army base in the deep south is distracted by the three local beauties that compete for the hearts of the soliders getting ready to go off and fight in France. The main character is introduced to one, Allie Calhoun and develops a friendship with her. It remains platonic and he becomes an observer to the way Allie flirts with several men looking for the one that might be worth marrying. Thoughtful and strong types are replaced with the adventurous and arrogant but she remains closed off to them all.

Years later the narrator heads back and discovers she has married a local rich man. As he searches for the long since knocked down army base, he is perhaps also looking in vain for the lost youth he wasted being a friend of Allie Calhoun.

You don't have to like the characters that Fitzgerald writes about, or harbour ambitions to be that wealthy, to understand that the themes he is writing about are universal. Loving and losing is something that people of all backgrounds so. It's just that in the world of the very rich there is a weakness from the failure to understand love is not a commodity that can be paid for. That weakness makes it more tragic when someone like Anson, who seems to have it all, in fact has very little which is becoming even less as he faces a lonely old age.

The name Fitzgerald is always said in the same breath as The Great Gatsby, but as this book proves yet again people should read his short stories.

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