Literary Correspondent, White Cover Magazine
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda was controlled by delusions of grandeur and the poisons of excess. She drove herself, her husband, and their marriage into a shit box fuelled with alcohol and depression. In the end, both went down in a flame — much like Scott’s greatest character did himself — and then had to wait until they died for good. They both burned out and faded away. They epitomized the hope of the 1920’s, and they were a symbol of the Crash that followed it. They were Americans in Europe and they ruined each other as fast as they ruined themselves. They crashed, and then they crashed.
When you read The Great Gatsby — my colleague Trevor Melanson once said to me, “When you read that book, you can tell he just spent all his time perfecting every sentence and every word” — it’s just so evident how self-destructive Fitzgerald was. His characters are awful and selfish and greedy and materialistic and trashy and he hates them. It’s clear when he’s writing it that he hates them. But, it’s also just so clear that he sees them in himself and — especially — in his wife, Zelda. It’s like his diary. A love letter to how great his life was at one point and how terribly it will end. He’s like Hemingway predicting his own suicide. You can see and smell the booze and it’s just so obvious how fast it will turn on them and rot them from the inside-out.
Gatsby dies with no friends. Fitzgerald was almost the same. He had people who remembered him, but even his relationship with Hemingway — the greatest American literary combination ever even imagined, never mind that it was real — was frayed and fractured by the end. Again, you could blame that on Yoko, er, Zelda, but is that fair?
Fitzgerald was his own monster. He was hiding under his own bed. He was lazy and self-interested and it ruined his writing. It ruined a gift almost nobody gets or is born with.
Imagine he saw how far his book has come. Imagine he knew the extents of our society, or that The Great Depression would happen all over again. Imagine he saw how greedy and self-obsessed we still are. Imagine if he knew who Baz Luhrmann or Leo DiCaprio was, and would he appreciate the piece of art they’ve apparently created?
Imagine he knew just how important the character of Gatsby would become. Imagine he knew how far the green light would go, or how much we’d still want that yellow Rolls Royce. Imagine he knew how we’d look back on bootlegging and Prohibition. Imagine he saw an Irishman take the Presidency in 1960.
Sure, we’ll go to the movie and we’ll probably pretend to like it, even if most of us don’t understand it or have ever read it.
We’ll play the part and go through the motions, and we’ll toss a Golden Globe or an Academy Award at Leo next year because, Holy Hell, how has he never won an Oscar?
But, we’ll probably just admire the excess and the furs and the cars and the women and the money. We’ll probably go out and buy new suits and make sure they fit well. Women will start wearing those bands across their hair and foreheads, and we’ll apply to Ivy League schools and search out new friends with the name Wolfsheim.
We’ll probably miss the point Fitzgerald was making all those years. And, that’s okay… because he did, too.