He was said to have epitomized the Jazz Age, which he himself defined as “a generation grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken”.
There’s something delicious about the way Fitzgerald writes, something that reminds me of one of those beautifully crafted cupcakes, with thick, rich frosting, and those lovely delicate designs all the bakeries are ripping off each other these days. It’s not that his storyline is one of unparalleled significance, indeed many others have written love stories, many others have written about Hollywood, but how many have written with the bewitching panash Fitzgerald seems to effortlessly bring to every description?
From the first page to the end, Fitzgerald’s story seems to be bathed in a soft, irridescent light, as if his characters are floating in a sort of see-through champagne-coloured silk, and every time the story takes a gentle turn, those champagne bubbles tickle your nose, making your mind twitch.
I’ve only read two of his books so far: The Great Gatsby, and The Last Tycoon, and in both, the narrative progresses in a melancholy haze, never hurrying itself, as if the road must be travelled, will be travelled, and so what’s your hurry anyway? Twists in the tale occur sporadically, scattered throughout like little ridges on a map – only very slightly discernable. It’s almost as if Fitzgerald is putting his reader to the test. Is the reader paying attention? If he isn’t, he most certainly won’t notice what’s going on, and will end up getting confused, and throwing the book away with a pah! This makes no sense.
The Last Tycoon does differ from The Great Gatsby. Both have a middle-aged man as the protagonist, but the former is told in a far less grandoise style, not quite boldly stating its main character as the heroic god. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald’s writing seems to show a sense of reverence for character – as is seen in the title The Last Tycoon, and the numerous soft hints of greatness hanging at the edges of his character outline. A review I read before I bought the book said that The Last Tycoon was a good way to compare how Fitzgerald had evolved as a writer in the time since Gatsby, and that this displayed a more mature sense of character development, a wider plot structure, etc. and though this is all evident in the novel, what makes it truly delightful is Fitzgerald’s unerring loyalty to his signature style. It is as concentrated and carefully constructed as The Great Gatsby, and the character of Monroe Stahr, in his misery and grandeur, is most definitely one of Fitzgerald’s most thought out.
Now, The Last Tycoon was never completed. F. Scott Fitzgerald died suddenly in 1940 and the book was published posthumously. He had completed a draft of the first six chapters, and the story from there onwards has been drawn from a large collection of notes he left behind. What seems to me a beautiful coincidence, is that right when the story seems to take its most dramatic turn (dramatic in Fitzgerald terms), the draft comes to an end – that is the last thing Fitzgerald had a chance to write before he passed away. For me, it is the highlight of the book.
As Edmund Wilson says, “The moving-picture business in America has here been observed at a close range, studied with a careful attention, and dramatized with a sharp wit such as not to be found in combination in any of the other novels on the subject. The Last Tycoon is far and away the best novel we have had about Hollywood, and it is the only one which takes us inside… even in its unfulfilled intention, [it] takes its place among the books that set a standard.”
My favorite line from the book? The studio lot looks like ‘thirty acres of fairyland’.