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 Richest Season by Maryann McFadden

Title: The Richest Season
Author: Maryann McFadden
Hardcover: 326 pages
Publish Date: June 10, 2008
Publisher: Hyperion
ISBN: 9781401322700

Joanna looked down on the smooth, rolling hills of northern New Jersey, lush and green from the midsummer rains. This was where she had worked and shopped and cooked and cleaned, driven the curving roads that wound through those hills like ribbons of blacktop. She’d had a life down there, an existence that now seemed foreign to her from thousands of feet above, looking out the window of the plane. A kind of life, anyway. She’d left all those months ago, after all, because it had been so empty. And it still amazed her that she had done it- just walked away. Now with the clear vision of time and distance, she could see what a different person she’d been then. Fragile and numb. Lonely. Scared most of all because she wasn’t really certain she could survive on her own. But here she was, having crossed the threshold of a new life that made coming back to her old one a little unnerving, despite the fact she couldn’t wait to see her children.

Maryann McFadden’s The Richest Seasonis a story of journeys. First, it’s a telling of the journey of Joanna Harrison, who decides she’s had enough of being a piece of furniture in her corporate-climbing husband’s life. After accompanying him to a company banquet, she is surprised by the announcement of his promotion (and yet another move in her rootless 27 year marriage). The morning after the banquet, as he is flying to California on business, she gathers up a few things and drives off, leaving a message on his voice mail telling him it’s over. Joanna’s journey in the book is one of self-discovery: discovering she has the strength to stand on her own two, that she has hidden talents she’d never realized, and that she can indeed still feel passion, despite the years of being ignored.

The second journey is that of terminally ill Grace, for whom Joanna works as a helper of sorts doing some cooking and cleaning as well as errands and driving her to her doctor’s appointments. Grace’s journey is one of letting go and coming to terms with her life… and death. She also rediscovers a talent that she had laid aside long ago to be wife and mother, now fearing failure if she were to start again.

The third journey of The Richest Season is that of Paul Harrison, Joanna’s husband. With Joanna gone, Paul is forced to step back and take a long look at who he has become and how he has failed as a husband and father. Realizing, too late, that he had taken his wife for granted and had ignored her feelings for a long time, he wants his wife to come home. However, he has to learn that people will do what they want to do and he cannot impose his will on them. Paul comes to understand that a job title doesn’t define you as a person, and he learns that doing what you love can be just as much a “job” as the 9 to 5 grind.

There are several themes in The Richest Season: Friendship, love, conquering fear, acceptance, forgiveness, and wisdom. Through their friendship, Grace is able to give Joanna what her own alcoholic mother never could while Joanna acts as a surrogate daughter, with whom Grace can make peace with herself regarding her own feelings of failures as a mother. They learn that fear itself is worse than whatever you’re afraid of can do to you. They learn to let go of guilt, regret and the past and accept the future is a clean slate on which they can write their own life story.

I enjoyed The Richest Season, it was full of real-life happenings, it wasn’t sweet and wonderful, but contained real emotions that I could relate to. Having been through divorce, having been my mother’s support as my father went through the process of dying daily from cancer, being a mother who knows I haven’t always been the best mom I could be, knowing the longing to fill the empty spaces left by loneliness, all these feelings are incorporated in this book.

Part of me was hoping Joanna would get together with Hank, the shrimp-boat captain and loggerhead turtle savior.  Part of me was pulling for Paul to get his act together and for Joanna to work it out with him.  But part of me also hoped Joanna would realize she could do fine on her own and that she didn’t need a man.  Hey, at least all my bases were covered!  and I was write with one of them 😉

There was something that annoyed me with the writing style, though. I can’t put my finger on it, but it did hinder me from loving the book. That being said, I would give The Richest Season 4 out of 5 stars. A solid effort for McFadden’s first book. 😀