“..leaving the page of the book carelessly open” – Anne Sexton

Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

A Tragic Honesty

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on November 8, 2009

yates olderI just finished reading A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Baily (who has also recently written a bio of John Cheever).  Lacking enough time to pleasure read, I had to renew it from the library twice so for about three months I carried this hefty 650 + page book to and from work, hauling it out to read on transit. In the age of e-readers and soft covers, let me tell you, a hard back, very thick book elicits stares. Not that I noticed them really, Mr. Yates‘ life was so engrossing that a couple of times I almost missed my subway/bus stops.

As a self-confessed literary snob, and reader of what I consider fine literature, I’m feeling a bit sheepish that I only discovered Yates last year, because of the pending film treatment of Revolutionary Road. He was writing in my adult lifetime therefore I could have bought his books and helped, at least in a small way, to contribute to his livelihood. That’s probably a ridiculous thought but it does occur to me that a man who is more well-known posthumously as one of the greatest contemporary American writers could have used at least one more reader while he was alive.

Yates did possess a tragic honesty, in his writing and in his life. He lived in ways people couldn’t understand, perhaps not even himself. He wrote about things people didn’t necessarily want to see in the world and recognize in themselves. It occurred to me while reading about his efforts to get those wonderfully crafted stories published in various magazines (esp. his heartbreak over the elusive New Yorker), that the era of reaching career pinnacles is somewhat behind us. The struggle for an agent, publisher, good review, film contract – these are dying goals in an age when you can publish your own blog, thoughts in 140 characters, and books to sell on consignment in stores. Hell, we might not be needing bookstore soon. So reading this biography was in so many ways a look back into an increasing lost time of the great struggle for lasting art.

Yates was one of those creatives who really couldn’t fully see his own talent – all the while using it – and his yates youngstories were often rejected because his characters seemed “bleak,” the atmosphere “dismal.” In actual fact, he was writing about human foibles and realities that are largely inarticulated, even still. Some criticized the fact that he mined the same field – that of his chaotic childhood, father-less (for all intents and purposes) and mother-ful (always there but terrifically selfish). I just think autobiography is  what most artists circle back to. His writing was so much more than a mere account of wrongs done to him. He nailed human intention vs. behaviour – for better or worse. I can’t think of anyone I’ve read who does it better.

Now I’m back to reading (in some cases re-reading) his novels and stories, which are all the richer by knowing what influenced and affected him. Like many artists, he was his own worst enemy, procrastinating writing by poor living habits, and sadly because of  his post-war ill health, made worse by his  alcoholism. Although I have yet to write my first novel, and have only published one short story, I can certainly relate to the difficulty of having to hold down a responsible “day job”  that leaves no free time, physically or mentally, for writing. I fully relate to his frustration with the “PR dodge” an anathema to any kind of creative writing. In true form, he came up with the perfect phrase to encapsulate the rally of many writers between paying the rent and contributing artistically.

Obviously anyone who admires the work of this master should read this book. After I exhaust the far two few books in Yates’ library I plan to go back to the book and author that drove his writing ambition, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby Thought I’ve read it numerous times, this time around I want to try to see it through the keen and sensitive writerly eyes of Richard Yates.


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F.Scott vs. Hollywood

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 15, 2009

benjaminbuttonI finally watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and directly after read the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Too much was lost in the translation. The whole story in fact – and its spirit.

I suppose in this case it wasn’t meant to be a loyal adaptation but it’s hard to say why this film was even made at all if it wasn’t going to represent the story.

The bookended clock scenes, and the fact that the story gets told against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina are conceits designed to make the story contemporary enough to attract a younger and/or non-literary audience. However, these are the elements that try to  make what is meant to be a fantastical tale that is a comment on changing social morrays into an actual plausible story. It fails. Hurricane Katrina was all too real.  This story is an allegory, not an historical fiction. Therefore, the clock scene is not needed to explain/justify the aging backwards. I wonder at the decision making process here. Since they were shooting in New Orleans did they think they needed to make a statement, was it meant as a tribute? Just doesn’t make enough sense to me to warrant changing the story.

bbrussiaParts of the film are entertaining. It’s fun to watch Brad Pitt age, then become young, and younger still. You find yourself thinking more about the special effects employed than the actual character and story. The character of Queenie is pure joy to watch. I also like the addition of Button’s Russian affair (how to not see Robert Redford during these scenes, Pitt looks uncannily like him as an older fellow).


In F. Scott’s story, no-one, not Benjamin’s father, not his wife, nor his son believe that he cannot control his descent from old-at birth to youth-at-death. He’s not taken to a healer to cure his strangeness. No-one is in on the joke. And in my view that is what gives the story, as brief as it is, its tension. Though I understand the idea of a soul connection regardless of age or station in life, etc, there are times in the film that the relationship between Benjamin and Daisy seems a little unsavoury. Like when, as a child, Daisy takes the aged Benjamin underneath her bed to play, and when, at the end of the film, Daisy plays nurse maid/mother to the baby Benjamin. Again, these would not be questions at all, had the backdrop not been a young woman reading an apparently real story back to her dying mother while the most destructive Hurricane in recent memory rages.

In the little game that I play with myself about film vs. literature, literature wins again.

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