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The Diamond As Big As The Ritz and Other stories by F.Scott Fitzgerald ( book review and recommendation)

F. Scott Fitzegerald (1896- 1940) is an American writer, probably best known for his novel The Great Gatsby. He wrote mainly novels and shorts stories, many of whom are critically acclaimed. Today as the title would imply, I will talk about The Diamond As Big As the Ritz And Other Stories. Well, I read this one online (so can you, his works are free to copy and read), but I believe it is the same edition as Peguin one (with green cover). Anyhow, the edition  I read consists of five short stories (the first one is more a novella than a short story but we’ll discuss that later): The Diamond As Big As The Ritz, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, The Ice Palace, May Day and The Bowl

Two of these I liked rather than loved (May Day and The Bowl), but the rest ( The Diamond as Big as Ritz, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, The Ice Palace ) were simply amazing! I can honestly say that I absolutely loved them. I must say that I like Fitzgerald just as much as a short story writer as I do as a novelist. The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night are, to this day, one of my favourite American novels. He is a great writer, no doubt about that. I will probably attempt to read all of his works, as I usually do, when I really like some writer. 

People always talk about Fitzgerald as a writer that defined the Jazz Age and as much as I’m interested in this particular time period, for me that is not that important. He is brilliant at that, but it is not what makes his works classics. In other words, for me he is so much more than just a writer who managed to capture the Jazz Age. There are many things about his writing that I like, from this subtle sadness and tenderness to the insightful observations about society and human kind. I suppose that what draws me to his writing the most is the way he creates his characters, somehow managing to capture their very essence. I’ll give you a fair warning. This is not going to be a short review because I will review the stories separately. They are, after all, quite different one from another. I’m not sure how useful would my general review be and how much I would be able to say in it, so I prefer to write a bit about every one of these stories. First things first.

The Diamond As Big As The Ritz 5/5

Possibly my favourite work in the collection. The Diamond as Big as the Ritz is actually a novella, so it is a bit longer than the other works in this collection. It is surprisingly dark and sinister in tone. Beautifully written and absolutely unsettling because of its implications. One of them: an extremely wealthy person can get away with anything. True today as ever? I suppose it is, and as long as money equals power it will stay that way. The interesting thing about this one is that is seems to, more often than not, cheer for the rich, digging deep into human imagination and myth to bring poetic images of wealth- those that we encounter in fairy tales-only to modernize them and make them seem horribly (and scary) close to our heart and desires.

The novel opens with a young man John T. Unger being invited by his mysterious classmate Percy Washington to visit his home. Once he gets there, John will discover that this family has a secret (incredible wealth) and they will do anything to hide that secret. At times this novella was quite revolting to read. Especially in the beginning, because as the story opened it seemed as if the writer was making Mr. Washington, this absurdly wealthy man (the diamond’s owner- the father of Percy) without a conscience something of a hero. I’m pretty sure that only a sociopath wouldn’t find some things these people were doing shocking. Needless to say, this family wants to protect what it has. Why have they invited Percy than? Because no matter how much one is wealth, one still needs to share it with someone if only by demonstrating it? Ever since Mr. Washington found the giant diamond, he and his family, have done everything to hide it- even the unthinkable. Yet, he makes you feel like there is a logic behind their action. A sinister logic, but logic nevertheless. He makes this philosophy 0f cause justifying the end sound ever so fabulous.

JOHN T. UNGER came from a family that had been well known in Hades−−a small town on the Mississippi River−−for several generations. John's father had held the amateur golf championship through many a heated contest; Mrs. Unger was known "from hot−box to hot−bed," as the local phrase went, for her political addresses; and young John T. Unger, who had just turned sixteen, had danced all the latest dances from New York before he put on long trousers. And now, for a certain time, he was to be away from home. That respect for a New England education which is the bane of all provincial places, which drains them yearly of their most promising young men, had seized upon his parents. Nothing would suit them but that he should go to St. Midas' School near Boston−− Hades was too small to hold their darling and gifted son. Now in Hades−−as you know if you ever have been there−−the names of the more fashionable preparatory schools and colleges mean very little. The inhabitants have been so long out of the world that, though they make a show of keeping up to date in dress and manners and literature, they depend to a great extent on hearsay, and a function that in Hades would be considered elaborate would doubtless be hailed by a Chicago beef−princess as "perhaps a little tacky."

Fitzgerald certainly had a way of making the filthy rich look ever so glamorous. He does that here as well but only at the beginning. As soon as you scratch the surface, you’ll see it is not the way it seems. Once Fitzgerald gets you thinking you certainly see things differently- and you realize that money is just another trap. I would say that this particular novella is probably the darkest thing by him that I have read so far. It plays on the emotions of the reader brilliantly.  The plot is fairly simple, but well developed and the ending of this novella is quite potent. There is a dark and pessimistic message that comes out at the end: without the money, you cannot be free. However, you cannot be free even when you have money because you must fight so desperately to keep it. Either way you're basically sentenced to a desperate fight – otherwise known as life.  Fitzgerald had examined fairy tales and myths in this one, and he had done it brilliantly.

Wealth is the great motivator in many fairy tales. Let's face it, almost all the fairy tales tell the story of a prince or a princess and there is always money involved. What Fitzgerald does is create a fairy tale for the adults. It many ways it even reminded me of dystopian literature. If you've read the good stuff you know that the bad guys almost always get the chance to explain the situation and the necessity of their choices. You almost can feel with them. Almost. That’s how what wonderful literature does, it opens those parts of your soul you’re afraid to examine, it takes the personal emotional weight of your shoulders by allowing you to distance yourself from it by focusing and feeling (i.e. catharsis) for some other (imaginary) individual. That is – perhaps- what all great human storytelling is all about. The pursuit of truth masked as entertainment. As revolted as I felt by the actions of the diamond owner, I could understand it- not justify it but understand it. Come on, the little demon would whisper in your ear as well if you ever happened to found the diamond the size of a mountain.

You might say that is not very probable, someone discovering a massive diamond and becoming incredibly rich in the process, but crazier things were knows to happen. I don’t think the plausibility of such an event is not really important for the context of the story. It is not entirely fantastical, but it isn’t exactly probable and perhaps the writer had wanted it to be that way to further connect it to the fairy tale sensation that he created. Take a look as this passage, doesn't it sound like a fairy tale: 

" Afterwards John remembered that first night as a daze of many colours, of quick sensory impressions, of music soft as a voice in love, and of beauty of things, lights and shadows, and motions and faces. There was a white-haired man who stood drinking a many- hued cordial from a cristal thimble set on a golden stem. There was a girl with a flowery face, dresses as Titania with braided sapphires in her hair. There was a room where the solid, soft gold of the walls yielded to the pressure of his hand, and a room that was like a platonic conception of the ultimate prison--ceiling, floor, and all, it was lined with an unbroken mass of diamonds, diamonds of every size and shape, until, lit with tail violet lamps in the corners, it dazzled the eyes with a whiteness that could be compared only with itself, beyond human wish, or dream.

Through a maze of these rooms the two boys wandered. Sometimes the floor under their feet would flame in brilliant patterns from lighting below, patterns of barbaric clashing colours, of pastel delicacy, of sheer whiteness, or of subtle and intricate mosaic, surely from some mosque on the Adriatic Sea. Sometimes beneath layers of thick crystal he would see blue or green water swirling, inhabited by vivid fish and growths of rainbow foliage. Then they would be treading on furs of every texture and colour or along corridors of palest ivory, unbroken as though carved complete from the gigantic tusks of dinosaurs extinct before the age of man ....”

To conclude, this novella is wonderfully imaginative, it is poetically written, but it is also very meaningful and it comes with a strong message. 

Bernice Bobs Her Hair 5/5

What a fantastic story! This one was such a pleasant surprise. It kind of reminded me of The Cat Eye by Margaret Atwood in its exploration of teenage bullying. It showcases passive aggressive tactics of revenge. It is a story about power balance between two young ladies. The protagonist of this story is Bernice as the title would suggest, a young lady that bobs her hair. The question is why she does it? She does it in an effort to become popular. When she arrives to visit her cuisine, she is surprised by the fact that she hardly attracts any attention. Bernice is not talkative and she doesn’t understand the art of popularity. It never occurred to her that the reasons for her popularity in her home town didn’t have anything to do with her social skills.

"As Bernice busied herself with tooth-brush and paste this night she wondered for the hundredth time why she never had any attention when she was away from home. That her family were the wealthiest in Eau Claire; that her mother entertained tremendously, gave little dinners for her daughter before all dances and bought her a car of her own to drive round in, never occurred to her as factors in her home-town social success. Like most girls she had been brought up on the warm milk prepared by Annie Fellows Johnston and on novels in which the female was beloved because of certain mysterious womanly qualities. always mentioned but never displayed."
So, poor Bernice gets quite a shock when she over hears her popular cousin making fun of her in front of her mother:
She turned out the light in her bathroom, and on an impulse decided to go in and chat for a moment with her aunt Josephine, whose light was still on. Her soft slippers bore her noiselessly down the carpeted hall, but hearing voices inside she stopped near the partly opened door. Then she caught her own name, and without any definite intention of eavesdropping lingered--and the thread of the conversation going on inside pierced her consciousness sharply as if it had been drawn through with a needle…
"She's absolutely hopeless!" It was Marjorie's voice. "Oh, I know what you're going to say! So many people have told you how pretty and sweet she is, and how she can cook! What of it? She has a bum time. Men don't like her."
"What's a little cheap popularity?"
Mrs. Harvey sounded annoyed.
"It's everything when you're eighteen," said Marjorie emphatically...

Isn’t that so? Isn’t popularity something everything when you’re a teenager? Very insightful short story, I might add. The plot is wonderful and the ending both funny- and somehow just. You even see some character development on part of Bernice, which is lovely considering that this is a story and not a novel. I quite liked this one. It is a fairly simple story, one of teaching someone a lesson- one might say, but is it well developed. As I said, this story itself is about the power struggles between women. He really does capture that passive aggressive side to well behaving young ladies (and social ladies in general). While it is true that Marjorie is selfish and sometimes cruel toward Bernice, her cousin Bernice had it coming by living without using her head.  I liked how Bernice seems to be a bit wiser at the end of the story. This is a story without heroes and villains in one sense. Just human beings being human. Women being human beings. Young ladies being human beings. Now, that is something you won't find as often is literature as one might aspect. Confrontation between women are often like this. Never in the open, most people can’t even notice them. The wounds that women inflict to each other, they’re quite subtle, but inflicting serious harm. This particular story is quite light in tone, but it does show the great potential for harm of this kind of hidden abusive behaviour.

The Ice Palace 4/5

The Ice Palace was more entertaining than profound, but I still rather liked it. It reminded me of Tennessee Williams, probably because the protagonist is a memorable Southern lady. So, just like in the previous story, here we have another female protagonist with a well-developed character. This story is an ode to the South in one way. It is fascinating how we're shaped by the things that surrounds us, even with something that seems as insignificant as climate. Sometimes in life we all may get a feeling that you're just a sum up of your surroundings and biology and  it can be a depressive feeling- or instructive experience, depends on how we take it. We are all influenced by our surroundings and when we examine those links, it can feel odd, seeing how deep those influences go. It makes one feel like we don’t matter, that we’re just a sum of our surroundings. Not that I believe it- but still, there is no running from it- sometimes it is true.

Like the leading lady of this story, I'm cold phobic. I dislike snow on principle and I feel the same way about the cold. Anyhow, supposedly our characters can be influenced by the weather. Here is what this southern bell has to say about it:
"I'm sorry; that sounded worse than I meant it. You see I always think of people as feline or canine, irrespective of sex."
"Which are you?"
"I'm feline. So are you. So are most Southern men an' most of these girls here."
"What's Harry?"
"Harry's canine distinctly. All the men I've met to-night seem to be canine."
"What does `canine' imply? A certain conscious masculinity as opposed to subtlety?"
"Reckon so. I never analysed it-- only I just look at people an' say `canine' or `feline' right off. It's right absurd, I guess."
"Not at all. I'm interested. I used to have a theory about these people. I think they're freezing up."
"I think they're growing like Swedes-- Ibsenesque, you know. Very gradually getting gloomy and melancholy. It's these long winters. Ever read any Ibsen?"

May Day 3/5

Rose nodded wisely, as if he'd expected as much. One should not be surprised at a capable man changing jobs occasionally. He knew a waiter once −−there ensued a long conversation as they walked as to whether waiters made more in actual wages than in tips −−it was decided that it depended on the social tone of the joint wherein the waiter labored. After having given each other vivid pictures of millionaires dining at Delmonico's and throwing away fifty−dollar bills after their first quart of champagne, both men thought privately of becoming waiters. In fact, Key's narrow brow was secreting a resolution to ask his brother to get him a job. 
I liked it but wasn't impressed. My mind wondered as I was reading it and that didn’t happen with the other stories. It was interesting, but somehow hard to follow. My opinion is that it had too much going on, maybe too much...Too many characters and stories to follow? It feels more like a sketch of a novel than a short story. It doesn't feel finished. I’m glad I read it and I enjoyed reading it, but I probably won’t reread it. 

The Bowl 3/5

I sure sympathized with Dolly and it was, in many ways, a fascinating interesting story. Once again, the protagonist caught my full attention. In some ways the protagonist reminded me of myself. However, something seems to be lacking. What? I cannot define it. There is something just too easy about it. I didn't make me feel anything in particular and "feeling" is what I go for in reading I guess. 

So, that would be it. My review of the day! Five stories, some of them brilliant, others not exactly perfect but still worth a read. Highly recommended!

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