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.

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The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark

Title: The Stettheimer Dollhouse

Author: Sheila W. Clark

Photography: Ali Elai of Camerarts, Inc.

Hardback: 64 pages

Publish Date: April 2009

Publisher: Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

ISBN: 9780764948022

One of the most celebrated and distinctive objects in the Museum of the City of New York’s Toy Collection is the Stettheimer Dollhouse, made between the world wars by Carrie Walter Stettheimer (1869 – 1944).  The dollhouse reflects a remarkable life lived during a remarkable time in the city’s history.  Along with her mother Rosetta and two of her sisters – Florine (1871 – 1944), an artist, and Ettie (1875 – 1955), a scholar and writer – Carrie hosted one of the most notable literary and artistic salons of early twentieth century New York society.  The Stettheimers’ sophisticated gatherings brought together a vibrant group of modernist intellectuals and artists of widely varying backgrounds, among whom were leading avant-garde painters, writers, and musicians, both Americans and European émigrés.

…Over the course of almost two decades, Carrie devoted what spare time she had to decorating the dollhouse’s interior, transforming it into a three-dimensional work of art.  Ettie later said she believed the dollhouse served as the outlet for Carrie’s artistic expression, a substitute of sorts for the career she aspired to in set design… Etti’s conjecture proves exceptionally revealing, and in this light the house may be seen as a series of fully conceived and executed stage sets, each awaiting the entrance of the players.

…Unlike most dollhouses, which are played with by children, this one was intended to be appreciated by adults, even by connoisseurs of art.  It’s decor reveals the sophisticated sensibility of its creator, combining different styles in the eclectic taste that was the epitome of New York fashion in the 1920s.

The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark, pages 7-8

The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark is a darling little informative book about one of miniaturists favorite buildings.  Complete with near-impossible photography, this book brings the dollhouse’s minute details into focus, from the weave of the needlepoint rugs to the optical illusions of the foyer wall decor.  I was continually delighted and impressed by the room by room descriptions and pictures.

My first reaction when I pulled this sealed book from the mailing envelope was childlike wonder.  I quickly tore the plastic wrap off of it and began to flip through, examining each beautiful image after the next.  Maggie peeked and peeped with excitement over my shoulder and is now intent on buying her own dollhouse from a soon-to-open pawn shop here in town.  The Rose Bedroom is one particularly adorable room we’ve both decided to live in.  If the impressive photos weren’t enough, the story behind the house is a rather interesting one, too.

The second thing I did after flipping through the book was to stick my nose into the middle of the book and breathe in deeply.  Silly as this may be, the scent of the book brought back memories of my mom’s craft room where she built several dollhouses, as well… two of which were my Christmas presents (she made a Barbie house for me out of a metal workshop shelf when I was 5 or 6, then a miniature dollhouse when I was 10 or 11).  The smells of wood glue and balsam, fabric, lacquer and turpentine, all brought back memories of shopping at hobby and craft stores, making trips to Indianapolis to buy special order dolls and hard to find pieces because I had to have a redheaded family or a bow window.  Not only was this book a treat intellectually, but it provided me that proverbial “walk down memory lane.”

The only complaint I could possibly have about it is that the writing is a bit dry. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t expect anything could change that.  I’d expect it’s rather difficult to describe chintz, chiffon and taffeta an keep your readers riveted, so I won’t hold that against the book.  Quite a joy of a book, and Maggie won’t let me mooch it away 😉 I give The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark 4 out of 5 stars.

The Stettheimer Dollhouse is on exhibit in the Museum of the City of New York.  The following is a promotional video for the museum: