I didn’t quite know what to read next after finishing Lord of the Flies, so thought I’d turn to some short stories before choosing my next novel. I first read some F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories years ago, and have managed since then to pick up all five volumes of his collected short stories in second-hand shops. The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Other Stories is actually Volume One of the Penguin series I have collected, although the stories themselves are not his earliest ones, so I don’t know quite what logic the good people at Penguin were following when assigning his stories to their five volumes.

Several of the titles contained in this collection indicate that we are in typical Fitzgerald territory: listed on the contents page we find ‘The Cut-Glass Bowl’, ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’, ‘The Rich Boy’ and ‘The Lees of Happiness’. However, there are also stories here that are not set in the rich, high society life of 1920’s New York, such as the interesting vignette, ‘An Alcoholic Case’.

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have to say that I wasn’t too taken by the story which lends its name to this collection, but I did very much enjoy ‘The Rich Boy’ and ‘The Lees of Happiness’ in particular. ‘The Rich Boy’ shares some similarities with Fitzgerald’s most famous novel, The Great Gatsby, in that it is a tale of wealth; of those who have it and of its impact on their values and way of life. Like Gatsby, it is also a tale told by an outside observer who is just far enough removed to be able to see past the glamour to the darker and lonelier aspects of  the American Dream.  As such there is a poignancy in the tale and an implicit warning about the dangers of excess wealth. Here are a few lines from near the beginning:

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way than, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. … Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

Although the collection is not uniformly brilliant, it is certainly worth a read. As intriguing and entertaining as it is to read about the glitz and glamour of high society life is, it isn’t this that draws me back to read more F. Scott Fitzgerald; it’s his ability – when writing at his best – to construct and present such real, such whole characters. Even in short pieces he is sometimes able to convey so much about an individual, yet without seemingly stating all that much. It is this ability to show, not simply to tell, that makes Fitzgerald such a great writer.

Hmm, I rather think I may have to re-read one of his novels again soon…

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