On the Glossless Bookshelf: Bernice Bobs Her Hair And Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald

With Baz Luhrmann's 2013 movie adaptation of the Great Gatsby premiering in Toronto this weekend, kiddos everywhere get to discover F. Scott Fitzgerald, even if the film proves to be rev'd up in a way that takes certain liberties with Fitzgerald's Jazz Age masterpiece. 

And I get to discover Leo again, arguably more beautiful now then he was back way back in 1996,  as a young buck in Luhrmann's movie adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.

But I digress...

While I've read The Great Gatsby several times over the years, each time I surface from it I feel like I'm coming out of a champagne fog. The atmosphere of the book still lingers with me, but I quickly loose an overarching sense of the characters/events that take place, because they are subtle compared to the decadence described in the book.

With Bernice Bobs Her Hair And Other Stories (Penguin, 1968) the Jazz Age is lit once again in all its shimmering glory, but what stays with me is how Fitzgerald captures the mindset of each of his characters as filtered through a certain class of people (somewhat privileged) during a certain era (as fluff as the one we live in).

Whether it's Bernice herself in the title story, a dull cousin from Eau Claire who wants to learn how to be attractive to men and the life of the party, or George Hannaford in Magnetism,  a moving-picture actor tangled up in a web of women and blackmail, I can't help but continue to draw comparisons to our modern day celebrities and socialites. Fitzgerald gives his fictional characters at the center of these stories equal parts heart and vanity, and makes me wish that each of these stories (all originally published in the 1920's) were full length novels.

My favourite passage from the book is in Winter Dreams, where the main character Dexter Green is lamenting his inability to feel moved anymore by hearing that the girl he was once infatuated with in his youth is no longer an enigmatic beauty:

"For the first time in years the tears were streaming down his face.  But they were for himself now.  He did not care about mouth and eyes and moving hands.  He wanted to care, and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back any more.  The gates were closed, the sun was gone down and there was no beauty but the grey beauty of steel that withstands all time.  Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth,  of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished."

In those few lines I think Fitzgerald perfectly sums up what it's like to grow older and settle into your life, to trade in all that intensity for a sliver of stability.  And that's why I think he is still relevant today, whether you are watching a version of his claim to literary fame in 3D, or simply salvaging a yellowed copy of his lesser known stories from a garage sale, like I did.