Tuesday, May 29, 2018

On Booze (New Directions Pearls) Paperbackby F. Scott Fitzgerald (New Directions )

In this slim book, New Directions capitalizes on (or is it exploits?) the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of - perhaps even THE - most notorious alcoholic among American authors. According to a publisher's note at the beginning of the volume, these miscellaneous snippets were all taken from the New Directions edition of "The Crack-Up". The back cover trumpets the volume as "A Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Best Drinking Stories", and goes on to say that ON BOOZE "runs a gauntlet of drunken debauchery as Fitzgerald experienced it: roaring, rambunctious, and lush . . . with quite a hangover."

I have now read the book (something I suspect the blurb-writer did not do) and I find the snappy New Directions marketing on the back cover to be somewhat misleading. Yes, most of the excerpts relate in some way - some explicitly, others tenuously - to Fitzgerald and alcohol, but the book as a whole is far from being a "drunken debauchery". The best parts of it reflect Fitzgerald's unease with his world - the sorts of things that CAUSED his drinking - rather than the drinking itself or the aftermath. The book is a far cry from "Everyday Drinking" by Kingsley Amis, which truly is a compendium devoted to booze and hangovers.

Two of the pieces are superb. "The Crack-Up" is a retrospective psychological/existential self-assessment from the first part of 1936. It contains some brilliant writing, of the sort that engenders dropped jaws, heart palpitations, and sheer envy. "My Lost City" is a world-weary look back on the New York City of the Jazz Age and Fitzgerald's exuberant youth. Two other pieces - "Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number -----" (highlights and lowlights from Scott and Zelda's stays in hotels around the world) and "Sleeping and Waking" (about insomnia) - are worthwhile, though not special.

Since all of the contents of ON BOOZE are taken from "The Crack-Up", and since "The Crack-Up" can be purchased from Amazon for about two dollars more, my recommendation would be to skip ON BOOZE and purchase "The Crack-Up."

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