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I always enjoy The Great Gatsby, but was a little hesitant about picking up Fitzgerald's short story collection after laboring through This Side of Paradise last year. I figured that this short story collection might be the usual glitz and glamour; however, I was so pleased with many of the unique, imaginative tales Fitzgerald puts together. This collection contains some of the Jazz Era glitz, but also fantasy elements that take place outside this era. Still, they explore many similar themes from other novels (money and wealth, greed, dreams, popularity, prejudice, etc), and provide both social commentary and morals about this time period. They also have that definitive poetic flair typical of Fitzgerald.
Here are some of my favorites:
"Bernice Bobs Her Hair" is reminiscent of a modern high school comedy. Bernice is a socially awkward intellectual and a definite party pooper, so thinks her cousin Majorie. Majorie hatches a plan to take plain Bernice and make her into a socially attractive girl who becomes the center of attention. Majorie comes to represent the revolutionary free thinking, modern girl who pushes her ideas of popularity onto Bernice. As we might expect, Bernice soon becomes the talk of the boys, with Majorie a bit taken back and somewhat envious. When Majorie chides Bernice as a "bluffer" about actually going through with her plan to get her hair bobbed, it plants the seeds to a fantastic finish.
"The Ice Palace" has deep symbolism and amazingly poetic descriptions typical of Fitzgerald. Taking place during the Civil War, the story explores differences between the North and the South, and makes a bigger point to illustrate the importance of home and one's values. Sally Carol, a Southerner, has visions of moving up, and moving past the southern way of life and marrying a Northern man, Harry Bellamy. Harry takes Sally to the north to visit for awhile, but while there, Sally has conflicted thoughts and must decide where her true values lie. Fitzgerald captures insightful perspective into Sally's conflicted nature: "To the spirited throb of the violins and the inspiring beat of the kettledrums her own old ghosts were marching by and on into the darkness." Both Northern and Southern ideals are tremendously romanticized, with the South symbolizing warm, familial importance, and the North a cold, progressive way of life.
My favorite story of the bunch is "A Diamond as Big as the Ritz." Who would have thought Fitzgerald had so much humor in him? This is such a laugh out loud, funny story on many levels, as it is a definite satire about money, wealth and good living, and Fitzgerald reaches into his bag of fantasy to make anything and everything a possibility, even owning a diamond as big as a hotel. John Unger attends one of the richest prep schools in the world with classmate, Percy Washington. John, with idealized visions of wealth, is quite impressed when Percy boasts about his father being the richest man in the world, and takes him to a secret mountain range in Montana where his father keeps the world's largest diamond. Percy's father goes to extreme measures to guard this diamond for fear of having its price value diminish, so he has servants guard the entrance, and attempts to shoot down airplanes that fly overhead. Also, those who come to the Washington estate either must be imprisoned or "removed." John soon finds himself interested in not only the amazing lavishness of the Washington home, but Percy's sister, Kismine. John and Kismine decide they will try to escape and elope, but John is now a marked man and has to figure out an escape.
This is a story dripping with satiric qualities. There's a scene where John first gets there and is bathed in the most lavish of fashions, complete with a movie-reel overhead so John can be entertained all the while. Fitzgerald lampoons the ideals of wealth to the infinite degree, and taking shots all the while at the Washington family, especially Braddock, who at one point attempts to bribe God to keep his wealth intact. The story also has enough zaniness to compete with Vonnegut's world.
Also included are the stories "The Jelly Bean", "May Day", and "The Offshore Pirate", about a spoiled girl's notions of love, who meets her match.
Overall, this is a great collection, and maybe a bit more accessible, light read for those wanting to read Fitzgerald, but don't want to take on one of his novels.