The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

By F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

Timed, no doubt, to the release of the upcoming feature film, Penguin Classics has reissued its collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age Stories as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The titular tale, an absurdist parable of a man who is born in old age and regresses to childhood over the course of 70 years, is just one among the 19 stories gathered here, the full roster of Fitzgerald’s first two collections. In a way, Fitzgerald’s early stories are a training ground for the author we’ve come to know, full of his habitual wit but with more whimsy than usual. In such stories as “The Camel’s Back,” about a man disguised as a camel at a costume party who tricks his noncommittal lover into marrying him, and the classic “Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” we catch a glimpse of the decadent exuberance of post-WWI America, unconstrained by the trifling boundaries of realism. Still, these stories are, for the most part, hardly without Fitzgerald’s melancholy touch — the novelette “May Day,” in particular, is a somber indictment of the ravages of the Jazz Age and the aftermath of war upon a set of young men and women whose lives intersect one fateful night in New York. Fitzgerald’s more ambitious stories, “May Day” among them, outclass some of the collection’s more lighthearted efforts: “Head and Shoulders,” in the O. Henry–esque orthodoxy of its structure, would seem the work of a less than mature creator. But then, that is one of the great pleasures of this collection — the chance to see one of America’s most iconic authors in the throes of his literary evolution.

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