REVIEWED: I’d Die For You (and other lost stories)

I'd die

I’d Die for You (and other lost stories) by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Story Collection, 2017).

Yes, the much-honored (even revered) author of The Great GatsbyThis Side of Paradise and Tender is the Night has a new short story collection out. It includes a whopping 16 never-before-published pieces and 2 never included in any of his several previous collections. Pretty neat trick, wouldn’t you say, coming out a mere 77 YEARS after his death?!

The seldom-mentioned truth is that even great (and hugely successful) authors often have works that (for various reasons) don’t get accepted or published. Some might simply not be good enough (everybody has an off-day, even the greats).

But other factors can come into play and even truly fine work can get sidetracked. A couple of the stories in this collection was actually accepted, but never published as the magazines went out of business. Others were felt to be too different from the material Fitzgerald had become famous for–editors wanted him to keep writing on such ‘safe’ themes as young love and the glitzy lives of the super rich, while his life experiences (health problems of both his troubled wife and himself, the sobering national disaster of the Great Depression, etc.) had changed his worldview and left him interested in exploring other themes. Some of these topics were, at the time, considered too controversial for the major publications of his era.

Also, as a younger writer he had been more willing to compromise and make changes editors might want. But as a more established and acclaimed writer, he had far less patience–he often simply refused to soften or delete scenes or aspects of his work that he believed in. So stories that dealt strongly with more taboo subjects (suicide and mental breakdowns, racial injustice, moments of gruesome torture–even if more implied than blatantly presented) came back again and again, until in frustration Fitzgerald put them aside.

Several others here are products of his repeated (failed and deeply frustrating) attempts to write for the movies. These slightly odd pieces are halfway between proposals for films he hoped to have made and actual short stories. Neither one thing or another, today they’re interesting in a historical sense–but less satisfying than many of the other pieces here. (“Gracie at Sea” is perhaps the best example and certainly the most complete;y developed in short story form. It was meant as a comical vehicle for the beloved husband and wife team, Gracie Allen and George Burns. Yet Fitzgerald’s dramatic instincts got the better of him, injecting a bit of serious psychological insight into the piece.)

Two fascinating Civil War era stories here (“Thumbs Up” and “Dentist Appointment”) are in fact the same story (whole sections repeated exactly), but with wildly differing endings and later settings, even moods. Both are compelling works, among those I most admired in this collection, and show fascinating glimpses of how wildly different a story idea can be developed at different times–even by the same author.

Editor Anne Margaret Daniel provides a valuable Introduction to the book as a whole, then outdoes herself with striking and insightful (and often quite extensive) notes on each of the stories’ individual histories–when it was written (to the extent known), what was going on in the author’s life, concerns of editors and Fitzgerald’s literary agent, and of course the whys and wherefores of how each became a ‘lost story.’

Not everything in the book is outstanding (as noted above, even literary geniuses can misfire at times). But there’s plenty here to reward the reader. I really liked, even loved many of the stories here. And F. Scott Fitzgerald is a pretty darn interesting guy in his own right, and this book illustrates sides of him his other books may only hint at. Ms. Daniel provides insights and information that adds greatly to the book’s depth of understanding.

Recommended to anyone with an interest in the literature of the 1920s and ’30s, Fitzgerald and the publishing world of that time. And yes, it’s a ‘good read’ too!

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