The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Title:  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Author:  F. Scott Fitzgerald

Paperback:  32 pages

Date Published:  February 18, 2008

Publisher:  Juniper Grove

ISBN:  9781603550833

A nurse was sitting behind a desk in the opaque gloom of the hall.  Swallowing his shame, Mr. Button approached her.

“Good-morning,” she remarked, looking up at him pleasantly.

“Good-morning.  I -I am Mr. Button.”

At this a look of utter terror spread itself over the girl’s face.  She rose to her feet and seemed about to fly from the hall, restraining herself only with the most apparent difficulty.

“I want to see my child,” said Mr. Button.

…Ranged around the walls were half a dozen white-enameled rolling cribs, each with a tag tied at the head.

“Well,” gasped Mr. Button, “which is mine?”

“There!” said the nurse.

Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger, and this is what he saw.  Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partially crammed into one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years of age.  His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a long smoke-colored beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window.  He looked up at Mr. Button with dim, faded eyes in which lurked a puzzled question.

“Am I mad?”  thundered Mr. Button, his terror resolving into rage.  “Is this some ghastly hospital joke?”

“It doesn’t seem like a joke to us,”  replied the nurse severely.  “And I don’t know whether you’re mad or not – but that is most certainly your child.”

-“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, pages 3-4

Originally published in Collier’s,  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” was inspired by a comment once made by Mark Twain.

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.

Such was the beginning for the stories main character, Benjamin Button.  Born as an elderly man, much to the chagrin of his socially and financially prominent family, his father initially intends to name his newborn “Methuselah” after the longest-living biblical patriarch who died at the age of 969 years of age.

Throughout the story, Benjamin lives a life that lacks, for the most part, acceptance.  His father doesn’t accept him as  a child and insists he wear short pants and play with toys, all the while the aged young Button would rather read the Encyclopedia Britannica and smoke Cuban cigars.  At the age of 18 (though looking 50), Benjamin is run out of New Haven, Connecticut by a mob when he insists to the Yale registrar that he is indeed both a freshman and eighteen.  As he grows younger and his wife grows older, she insists he stop being different and grow old like normal people, a sentiment later echoed by his own son.

While “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is an interesting story, it is dated in it’s language and cultural sense.  A fifty-year-old college freshman would be commended today, rather than mocked.  In a world with the Internet and Paparazzi lurking behind every bush, waiting to snap a picture of the social elite, when those same pictures are discussed for weeks and speculations are made on national television, blogs and by comedians and late-night talk show host as to whether they’ve had work done, are suffering from an eating disorder or are doing crack, the global nature of our “community” would render it impossible to notice Button’s de-aging process.

And I won’t even go into the physiological impossibility for a woman of average height, 5′ 4″ to give birth to a 5’8″ baby.  She wouldn’t have even been able to carry the baby to term.  And this same baby is born with the ability to talk intelligently, to know the difference between milk and steak, and to walk home from the hospital?  OKAY… so this story requires an incredible amount of “willingness to suspend belief”.

But, most of all…. This is a short story that I very much wish had been fleshed out into a novel.  It leaves out so much detail and is over so quickly.  I was able to read it in about an hour, as it was only 26 pages, and I judged a cartwheel contest in that hour, as well.

It is important to remember that “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was written by Fitzgerald in the early 20s.  I thought about one of my favorite television series from my childhood, Mork and Mindy, the movie Jack and, of course, the recent film version of the short story starring Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt.

Not only did Fitzgerald take his inspiration for the story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” from Mark Twain, but the writing style also had a Twain-esque feel to it, which was probably one of the things that helped me get through it.  All in all, I’d say, if ya got the book lying around,  read it… it’s short enough not to be a punishment… but don’t go out of your way to find a copy.  I can now watch the movie, guilt-free, and I’m betting the movie is better than the book, which feels more like a concept for a novel than a completed work.  I give “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Trailer for the movie version of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons”…  And I would definitely HAVE TO SAY that the movie is about as much “based” on Fitzgerald’s story as the story was “based” on Twain’s quote.  From what I’ve seen in the trailer, I’d have to say that it bears little resemblance to the short story, but it looks a lot more magical than the written story was.

Books, Buds, and Blueberry-Lemon Crunch Cake

It’s been an interesting and fun day here.  The weather is gorgeous!  Warm, sunny, and a good breeze to blow all the winter stench away.  The girls and I all headed to the library to take back a few things and Sam wanted to get some more movies and Twilight.  As it turns out, by the way, all I had to do was tell her what was in Marked (oral sex), and she decided it wasn’t a book for her.  She’s a good kid :-)

On our way, we met up with a friend who reminded me that the library sale was today, a fact I had NOT forgotten, but alas, did not have any money for it.  I made the comment that I didn’t have any money so I’d have to catch the next one, and she pressed a five dollar bill in my hand and told me to get everyone some books. :-D Friends are great ;-)

So, at our library sale books cost fifty cents a piece, or $5 per bag.  I perused the books, looking at all the books offered. Most of the children’s books were a bit baby-ish, but Maggie picked up a book on Texas (that’s where my mom lives).  Sam snatched up a Where’s Waldo? book, and Gwen got a beautifully illustrated fairy tale book.

One of the main criteria for the books I chose were size.  The smaller the book, the more I could cram in the bag ;-) so no coffee table books today (there wasn’t many available anyway, oddly enough).  But a very interesting thing has happened since joining LibraryThing, the blogging realm and reading emails from publishers, Shelf Awarenes, and everything else.  I’m beginning to recocgnize titles I’ve heard and wanted.  For instance, one book that jumped out at me is called People of the Valley, though I’m not even sure why it popped out at me.

Then, just a little bit ago, the mailman dropped off a few of my mooches, and one of them caught my eye. Last week, Abe Publishing sent an email about the 10 overlooked Pulitzer Prize winning books, and I immediately mooched them or put the titles on my wishlists. One of them, Lamb in His Bosom, was among my haul today.  What caught my attention about the book is that, looking at the cover or reading the title, I would have passed over this book without a thought.

Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller

My first thought on it is, “It’s just some religious book.”  Which reminds me of the proverb “Never judge a book by its cover.”  And I wonder how many exceptional books have I missed, how many life-changing narratives have I blown off, and it makes me a little sad.

Add to that, all those books in the library itself were all dreams and babies of writers, and I will never be able to read even 1% of all of them.  So many colorful spines that call out to me from those lightly dusted faux-wood shelves, and I am forced to turn my back on them and walk out… ignoring all those voices of all those people who had something to say and managed to do what most don’t:  Bind their words in an available and solid, tangible way.

So have you ever had a book call to you?  Have you read a book that you loved, but would have never picked up on your own?  What sources do you turn to for the next title to read?  How do you stretch your reading taste?

Off to eat my Blueberry-Lemon Crunch Bundt cake :-D

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