I just finished The Last Tycoon by Scott F. Fitzgerald. I know that Fitzgerald has been ruined by the fame of his own book, The Great Gatsby, because it’s been studied by every high school sophomore in America, and is THE novel that represents the American Dream and oh my god DiCaprio was the best Gatsby ever blah blah blah, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t love him.
Fitzgerald’s fame, ironically, is a castle made of spun sugar similar to Gatsby himself. *pause for contemplation*
But before I get sucked into the endless void that is comparing Gatsby and the American Dream, for which I will almost immediately get crucified for, let me tell you a little bit about The Last Tycoon. It’s a beautiful book, although unfinished. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack before he completed this last novel, but luckily there is enough of an outline and enough notes that Fitzgerald made on his manuscript that it’s able to be read as a cohesive novel. I would highly recommend reading it. There is more pain in this novel than there is in Fitzgerald’s earlier work, more cynicism and dripping disregard for the materialism of the early 20th century. Obviously written after Fitzgerald’s fall from financial security, the criticism of his outdated opulent books published in then midst of a nationwide economic crisis, and after the multiple institutionalizations of his wife Zelda, The Last Tycoon is more bittersweet, and somber.
Despite all of this, Fitzgerald’s gold shines through. There is still a deep love in this work for beauty, a sense of aching to create things that are beautiful for the sake of beauty itself, a powerful drive for the incredible and amazing simply because we can. This comes through in a particularly beautiful passage in which Stahr, the film producer and last tycoon, is trying to cajole one of his writers into making better scripts. This writer, who had formerly been a novelist and therefore a “serious writer,” has turned his nose up at the concept of film writing, because films aren’t classy or beautiful enough for him. The following then occurs.
“Has your office got a stove in it that lights with a match?”
“I think it has,” said Boxley stiffly, “but I never use it.”
“Suppose you’re in your office. You’ve been fighting duels or writing all day and you’re too tired to fight or write anymore. You’re sitting there staring -dull, like we all get sometimes. A pretty stenographer that you’ve seen before before comes into the room and you watch her -idly. She doesn’t see you, though you’re very close to her. She takes off her gloves, opens her purse, and dumps it out on the table.
Stahr stood up, tossing his key ring on his desk.
“She has two dimes and a nickel-and a cardboard matchbox. She leaves the nickel on the desk, puts the two dimes back into her purse and takes her black gloves to the stove, opens it, and puts them inside. There is one match in the match box and she starts to light it kneeling by the stove. You notice there’s a stiff wind blowing int he window-but just then your telephone rings. The girl picks it up, says hello -listens- and says deliberately into the phone, “I’ve never owned a pair of black gloves in my life. ” She hangs up, kneels by the stove again, and just as she lights the match, you glance around very suddenly and see there’s another man in the office, watching every move the girl makes -”
“Go on,” says Boxley smiling, “What happens?”
“I don’t know,” said Stahr, “I was just making pictures.”
This, ladies and gentleman, is why I love Fitzgerald. He can paint a picture in a hundred words that has a thousand different stories inside of it. The Last Tycoon, while written in the slow decline of his life, still gleams with admiration and triumph for love and beauty, and most of all, the thrill of a good juicy story.