Wednesday, December 18, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Cruise of the Rolling Junk

This is a three-part travelogue that was published in magazines in 1924, but not in book form until
2011. It's a mystery to me why it took so long, and why it's not better known.  As I've noted before, FSF's nonfiction just may be, with a few exceptions in either direction, where it's at.

Because I take it back:  this made me laugh.  Out loud.  At least a couple of times.  The idea is that it's a road trip, a true spur-of-the-moment, for-no-good-reason road trip of the type young Americans take:  Scott and Zelda wake up one morning in their Connecticut cottage and realize they need real Southern biscuits and peaches for breakfast, so they drive all the way to Alabama to get them.  In a car that's falling apart, through an America that's decades off from an interstate highway system.

I'm coming to realize that Fitzgerald's best characters were Zelda, the unflappable flapper, and F. Scott, the buffoonish author who thinks he's above it all, and in this book he plays those characters to the hilt.  It's sitcom stuff but it's great:  they have the devil-may-care attitude that leads them to think that money will buy them safety and comfort everywhere they go, but he also lets us see that in fact they don't have the money, and therefore they're in constant comic peril and real discomfort.  (Since they're driving through the South and Fitzgerald's a frightfully unself-conscious racist some of this peril is expressed in horrific terms, but.)

And most importantly, writing about his best and easiest subjects freed Fitzgerald up to make some really decent jokes.  It's all a natural performance, and quite witty.  A more or less random selection, from p. 65: 
About the time we crossed the white chalk line which divides Virginia from North Carolina, we became aware that some sort of dispute was taking place in the interior of the car.  It began as a series of sullen mutters but soon the participants were involved in a noisy and metallic altercation.  I gathered that things were being thrown...
Silly cartoon humor: the white chalk line.  Situational humor: the sophisticate mystified by machinery.  Witty self-deprecating irony: the parts of the car at war with each other mirroring the marital disputes they in some measure give rise to.  Plus, wonderfully musical writing:  "sullen mutters," "metallic altercation."

One of his best.

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