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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why we should read Fitzgerald's unfinished novel The Last Tycoon along w/ his notes

I've not (yet) "read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books," but spurred by new miniseries have begun reading his final and uncompleted novel, The Last Tycoon. Of course it's unfair to judge this work but totally engaging to read it, especially w/ author's notes on his own draft indicating areas where he wanted to expand, revise, cut, and so forth - a rare chance to actually see the mind of a writer in action as he shapes his material. This exercise wouldn't be worthwhile were the novel itself not excellent, at least the portions FSF completed - and I think it's clear that Tycoon could have been his best work, possibly surpassing Gatsby. There are many Gatsby-like elements in the first chapter: the central figure, Monroe Stahr, the last great studio magnate Hollywood producer, is flying x-country in a special first-class cabin, and at least initially he's unrecognized by the narrator, a college-age daughter of another producer - only after conversing w/ him does she realize his ID - a scene reminiscent of Carroway's 1sst conversation w/ Gatsby. Similarly, Stahr is traveling under an assumed name - Smith, of all things - also reminiscent of Gatsby's chameleon-like changes of name. The narrative voice in the first chapter is wise (beyond her years), shrewd, and skeptical - something like Carroway's voice as well, as she is writing from a 5-year vantage, looking back on her naive "youth." The 2nd and 3rd chapters focus on the goings-on in the studio, particularly during a night when there's a lightning storm and flash flood that does damage to the back lot. These chapters are great and hilarious for their insight in the studio life - production, promotion, handling of fragile egos, the producer (Stahr)' s meetings w/ writers, actors, directors, just terrific material here; the only oddity, and it's a big one, is that FSF completely loses the sense of the narrator's voice - the story in no way seems to be coming from the pen of a 20-something Bennington grad. Clearly, he either has to rely more on her insights and observations throughout, as in the 1st chapter, or abandon the first-person narrative altogether. Toward the 3nd of chapter 3 a plot begins to emerge, as Stahr seems to want to find out the ID of a good-looking woman who was rescued from the back-lot flood - reason isn't clear yet but most likely he's enamored, though there may be more to it (her name seems to be Smith - the moniker he uses on the cross-country flight). There are other rough spots and poor transitions, all of which give the narrative even more shape and texture - like one of Michelangelo's seemingly unfinished sculpture that seem to be emerging, before our eyes, from the stone.

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