The Crack-Up (Anglais) Broché – 29 janvier 2009
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I carried F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE CRACK-UP around with me for almost ten years before I got around to reading it last month. It was one of those books that I felt I was literarily required to read, what with my affection for all things Fitzgerald -- especially Gatsby. Once I got into the book, I found parts of it fairly impenetrable, which must have been Fitzgerald's state of mind while writing some of the material, a posthumous hodgepodge of uncollected pieces, samplings of notebooks, and unpublished letters (both from and to the author).
An excellent companion piece to the book is the PBS American Masters documentary, F. SCOTT FITZGERALD: WINTER DREAMS, which draws heavily from THE CRACK-UP. The film, in its quest to simulate the elegance that its subject so desperately tried (and failed) to attain, unfortunately breezes over some key points in the writer's life; but the DVD is well worth checking out (literally, either from your local library or Netflix). (PBS's website makes up for some of these omissions with a nifty timeline that puts all of Fitzgerald's accomplishments into context with the tragic goings-on in his life. It also offers some additional footage that does not appear in the film, most notably interviews with E.L. Doctorow and Budd Schulberg, who wrote the screenplay for On the Waterfront and who, as a young screenwriter, was rewritten by Fitzgerald.)
Originally written as three essays for Esquire in 1936, "The Crack-Up" was Fitzgerald's bearing of his soul, his confession, his mea culpa to the world at large for letting them -- and himself -- down. It begins: "Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work -- the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside -- the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don't show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within -- that you don't feel until it's too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again."
The literary world at large found such brash honesty unseemly, and Ernest Hemingway especially was disdainful of his friend's candor. But just as "The Crack-Up" essays unnecessarily confirmed that Hemingway was indeed a bastard, they also demonstrated that Fitzgerald could still write.
One of the most poignant and telling passages in THE CRACK-UP anthology appears in Fitzgerald's 1932 essay about New York, "My Lost City." Returning a couple of years after the stock market crash of 1929 ("I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives," he writes, "but there was certainly to be a second act to New York's boom days"), Fitzgerald found a new skyline awaiting him. The Empire State Building, all 103 floors and 1,454 feet, had risen out of the dust of the Big Crash. Fitzgerald "went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood -- everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora's box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed but that it had limits -- from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground."
Perhaps at that moment Fitzgerald discovered he had his limits, too, and that they were already in his past. One wonders how many times in the eight tortured years he had left, dealing with the insanity of Zelda and Hollywood, book sales all but evaporating, he looked back on that moment atop the Empire State Building and wished he had jumped.
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In The Crack-Up Fitzgerald writes equally poignantly of the agony of the aftermath of such excess and unfulfilled desires and social insecurities. He was able to capture all of this so clearly because it was the life that he and Zelda aspired to and, from time to time, lived. But they were always just on the outside, depending on the generosity of others both financially socially. He takes no prisoners.
It is no surprise that he is still being widely read. Don't miss Fitzgeral - it doesn't really matter which of his books you start with, you will find yourself moving through the collection.
The Crack-Up was originally published in book form while Fitzgerald was still alive, which may explain the somewhat odd selection. The obituaries collected at the end were added after his death for the 1945 edition.
Even with the flaws, The Crack-Up is still worth taking the time to read. Particularly if you are a fan of Fitzgerald, the bitter thought-provoking autobiographical essays provide a nice counterpoint to the exuberance of the novels. Aside from the title essay, "My Lost City" is particularly nice.
Fitzgerald arranged fragments of his writing notebooks into a series of conceptual categories for publication in this volume. These fragments serve as a very nice reminder just how good of a writer he really was. The combination of skilled turn of phrase and careful eye for detail is a powerful one. The journal section could serve as a very good lesson in observation for would-be writers of today.
Wilson himself notes that the letters included represent "merely a handful that happened to be easily obtainable". The most interesting letters are those written to his daughter and some of the letters that he received after the publication of the Great Gatsby. It is fascinating to read the reactions of Stein, Wharton and Eliot.
Time for a new edition of (at least) the collected letters?
The book is made up of a series of short narratives that Fitzgerald wrote describing the world around him leading up to his death at the age of 44. As usual his writing is so incredibly lucid and eloquent that you are not only transported to the place but can sense the anguish and frustration that he feels with his life. Take this excerpt for example:
"The tempo of the city had changed sharply. The uncertainties of 1920 were drowned in a steady golden roar and many of our friends had grown wealthy. But the restlessness of New York in 1927 approached hysteria. The parties were bigger, the catering to dissipation set an example to Paris, the shows were broader, the buildings higher, the morals looser and the whiskey cheaper" - Pg. 30
The middle of the book is made of some lists that Fitzgerald was obsessed with making and the final section is filled with his personal correspondence. The letters between him and Hemingway are true gems.