F. Scott Fitzgerald, On Booze

07/20/2011 4:00 AM |

On Booze

F. Scott Fitzgerald

New Directions

A lifelong thirst for alcohol helped finish F. Scott Fitzgerald at 44. When he boasted in letters of being on the wagon, it only meant he was sticking to beer. His closeness to drink made him particularly eloquent on both its pleasures and ruinous potential. Alcoholics clownish, decorative and tragic glut his fiction, like Gatsby’s guests, Anthony Patch and Dick Diver on their downswings, “Crazy Sunday”’s Joel Coles, and sad old Pat Hobby with his pathetic sacks of empties. On booze—a slang term he rarely used, to the best of my knowledge—Malcolm Lowry is more harrowing, Patrick Hamilton more acute, and Bukowski funnier, but Fitzgerald was singularly artful at tying personal disasters like his own disease to larger shifts and failures in his country. Pity that the same spirits that helped color his fountain-dipping 1920s persona accelerated his Hollywood crack-up, when the natural facility had flown even though he was still producing excellent stories and the promising kernel of The Last Tycoon. New Directions here presents essays, scraps, and letters—no fiction—from both periods, and in between.

On Booze reprints Fitzgerald’s masterful, personal New York portrait “My Lost City,”in which he remembers sharing conversation and cocktails at Princeton friend Edmund Wilson’s bachelor pad, his discovery of the city with wife Zelda, and his disillusion. The Crack-Up essays are frank and eloquent revelations from the author mourning his idealism. There are funny drunken letters to John Peale Bishop, and a grab bag of jottings from Fitzgerald’s notebooks including a recipe for “turkey with whiskey sauce”for a party of four (one gallon of whiskey followed the next day by the turkey) and a critical note-to-self (“Sending orchestra second-rate champagne—never, never do it again.”) The effects of alcohol are felt in so much Scott Fitzgerald writing that a comprehensive anthology of everything booze-related in the corpus would be unwieldy. Culled for slimmer pockets from New Directions’ prior edition of The Crack-Up, this medley is a gateway sip.