This post is part of a year-long series about short stories. Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.
Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920) – The first book of short stories from the great American author. This collection has eight stories:
- “The Offshore Pirate”
- “The Ice Palace”
- “Head and Shoulders”
- “The Cut-Glass Bowl”
- “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”
- “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong”
- “The Four Fists”
I can not explain how my exposure to Fitzgerald’s writing has been as minimal as it is. To be perfectly transparent, until a year ago I don’t believe I’d ever read anything of his. Not even “The Great Gatsby” (still haven’t read it). About a year ago, I received a short story collection which included his “A Diamond As Big As The Ritz”. While I love Jimmy Buffett’s song of that name, I hated this short story. It felt like Fitzgerald was trying for some kind of “fantastic” literature and came up very short. Just an utter flop from my point of view, even when I made adjustments for almost a century’s worth of social change.
So I entered into this collection with very low expectations.
I emerged at the other end of the book with a completely different attitude about the author.
The first thing that leapt out at me was the sheer beauty of his writing. Let me put it to you this way: it’s the kind of writing that made me stop my family and say “Listen to this…”, and then read them a phrase, a sentence or paragraph. This is the art of writing. The ability to weave words no only to tell the story, but to create something beautiful in and of itself. That’s rare in my experience and rare beyond measure to find a book that has example after example.
Fitzgerald explores several of the themes that would become his trademark in the years that followed. The desire of the young to find their own identity, and to rebel against the norms of the day. The interplay of social class is featured as well.
My favorites here are:
- “The Cut Glass Bowl” – Fitzgerald plays along the edges of science fiction and horror here. Terrible things happen to the Pipers and it all seems connected a wedding gift.
- “The Four Fists” – the story of a man who learns four profound life lessons after being punched in the face.
- “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” – In the 1920s “bobbing” a woman’s hair (i.e. cutting it short) was a radical thing to do. Certainly not something a “lady” would consider. Here, in an attempt for social acceptance, Bernice is conned into doing just that. It remains an excellent object lesson on not giving into peer pressure.’
The rest of the stories each have their own strengths as well.
This is a great way to start this series! An iconic American author, and some wonderful writing as well.