Monday, January 19, 2009

Reader's Diary #437- F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Last week, one of Teddy Rose's contributions to Short Story Monday was a review of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button".

Until the movie, I hadn't even heard of the short story. I wasn't a big fan of The Great Gatsby and so I really didn't pay attention to his other writings. But once again Hollywood has motivated me to learn. You see, at first I thought the premise of the new Brad Pitt movie was a rip-off of Jonathan Winter's "Mearth" character from Mork and Mindy. It turns out that Mearth had ripped off Benjamin Button, the title character in Fitzgerald's story who was the first to age backwards. Thanks to Teddy for finding a free online version of the story, so I could check it out.

Aging backwards, of course, is a bit of a ridiculous scenario and it is no wonder that a sitcom would try the idea. Fitzgerald seems to acknowledge the humour of the situation and keeps the farfetchedness at the surface as much as possible, I suspect to prevent the story from losing it's comedic edge. When Mr. Button first meets his 70-year old new born, he's crammed into a crib and almost immediately begins a cranky rant about his present surroundings and requesting a comfortable rocking chair. The rest of the humour comes from the confusion as to how Benjamin should behave and how people should treat him: by his birth age or physical and mental age?

Though the preposterousness didn't bother me, I was annoyed over some unbelievable reactions by some of the characters. That Benjamin's father found it hard to accept that his son was different, and would buy him toys and generally treat the old man as a child is, of course, no less believable than the premise. But I couldn't understand the reactions of some of the other characters that seemed angered by the whole thing. Right at the beginning, the doctor who breaks the news to Mr. Button is bizarrely irritated with the case. Why was the doctor so short with him, snapping at his questions? The doctor rambles on about what it would do to his reputation. These days a medical marvel such as this would do wonders for a doctor's career. Was it so vastly different back then? And when his wife says, "there's a right way of doing things and a wrong way. If you've made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don't suppose I can stop you, but I really don't think it's very considerate," it's such a silly thing to imply that Benjamin could somehow control his circumstance that it's not even believable. The title refers to Benjamin's case as "curious." However, a more accurate description of the story would have been "The Inconvenient Case of Benjamin Button." Had the characters acted with at least some curiosity, going along with Fitzgerald's premise would have been easier. There has to some normality to balance things out, doesn't there?

I did enjoy the story a little more at the end when he finally became a child, though it does begin to be a little depressing at this point. Despite the specifics, the life in reverse turns out not to be all that different than a life told forward.

If you've written a post for Short Story Monday, leave your link below, As well, last week Laza suggested a Short Story Monday button. I think it's a wonderful idea, but I've only been able to come up with the very simple thing you see above. If someone else feels creative and would like to put something else together, I'd be ever so grateful!


Teddy Rose said...

Thanks so much for linking to my review John. I had such a hard time reviewing that story and you put a lot of my thoughts into words!

I must say though, that from now on I must remember not to have water in my mouth while reading your reviews. My brand new computer screen had bits of water all over it when I read this, "I thought the premise of the new Brad Pitt movie was a rip-off of Jonathan Winter's "Mearth" character from Mork and Mindy."

I totally forgot about that LOL!

Anyway my short story review this week is 'A Night At the Opera' by Janet Frame. Here's the link:

trish said...

I understand where you're coming from, but I took the story to be a sad story more than anything. In fact, I think it's very similar to Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. Neither story is about acknowledging the "condition". I think one of the themes in both stories (though it's been a long time since I read Metamorphosis is how people (friends AND family) treat someone who's different. Ultimately, both stories are rather sad, as neither characters are ever accepted. Benjamin Button was sad to me on a deeper level because he himself changed so much, going so far as to fall out of love with his wife because they were at such different places in their lives.

But that's just my opinion. :-)

John Mutford said...

Teddy: I was either brave or really stupid to admit that Jonathan Winters thing. (Nanoo, Nanoo.)

Trish: I still haven't read "Metamorphosis," though whenever someone mentions it, I tell myself to get on it.

I agree "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" might primarily be about how people are treated when they are different, but I still didn't buy the reactions of those in Benjamin's life. They could have been unfair and still believable (i.e., treating him like a "freak") instead of Fitzgerald's absurd animosity angle. I also agree with you that it was depressing after a while. Thanks for your input.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You really would think that doctor would be all over that case, wouldn't you? HE really should have been trying to elbow Oliver Sacks out of the way for speaking engagements.

Ali said...

Mine's up. It's one of Jhumpa Lahiri's stories from Interpreter of Maladies.

Chrisbookarama said...

I have heard that the story is a bit campy. The movie looks very dramatic.

I just gave you on award on my blog.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post and have bookmarked the story for later. Interesting views.

katrina said...

Good Review. My Short Story review is of a story I listened to, the review and link are in my post. I also have linked to a review I wrote yesterday of 3 short stories written by Indonesian Women

Lynda said...

I read Benjamin Button last week.

Today I've read: The Christmas Tree and the Wedding by Fyodor Dostoevsky - link here: