I’ve attended my first Edinburgh festival event of 2011 and thus summer has officially begun.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the castle stood resplendent on its crag.

The Mardi Gras made its way from the City Chambers to the Grassmarket ….

where the band played the afternoon away.

Some enjoyed themselves more than others –

and the umbrellas were for decoration only.

It put me in the mood for some of F S Fitzgerald’s gilted stories from the 1920’s. 

Flappers and Philosophers: The Collected Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald contains a selection from his short story output which spans his entire career, from early beginnings to posthumous publication.  I’ve just spent another wonderful sunny afternoon ignoring the grouting in the bathroom. (I can save that for a rainy Saturday.) Instead I have lounged in the back garden with the selection from Flappers and Philosophers (1920) and Tales of the Jazz Age (1922)

Tucked in amidst the famous masterpieces, May Day, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Diamond as Big as The Ritz,  I found new-to-me stories that delighted, entertained and shocked.   The Cut-Glass Bowl is a wedding-gift given to Evylyn Piper by a disappointed beau.

The night I told him I was going to marry Harold, seven years ago, in ninety-two, he drew himself way up and said: “Evylyn I’m going to give a present that’s as hard as you are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through”.

Ouch!  The malign intent in the giving slowly but surely suffuses itself into Evylyn’s marriage with painful consequence.   Two unhappy marriages lie at the centre of The Lees of Happiness.  One is ruined by a true unavoidable tragedy.  The other by empty-headed human foibles.  The lesson as the injured parties head into middle-age:

To these two life has come quickly and gone, leaving not bitterness, but pity: not disillusion, but only pain.

The romance is The Ice Palace is doomed because of the north/south divide. A southern belle determines to marry her Yankee beau but on a visit north the coldness of both climate and culture freezes her heart, body and soul.  On a more light-hearted note Bernice bobs her hair.   Only those with long hair (like me – I’ve been shorn short only 3 times in my adult life) can understand how momentous an occasion this should be and what a disaster it is when the cut doesn’t suit.  Even more so when one has been bullied into it.  But Bernice is no longer the shy retiring type she was at the end and her revenge, served cold, is quite delicious!

Fitzgerald’s phrasing is so precise.  The satire so cutting.  He is a master of the short story form.  The majority of these stories are only 20 pages in length and yet all have a complete story arc, moving mostly from high to low points. They are complete.  There’s no feeling of unfinished business that sometimes frustrates me with contemporary short stories.   I loved this selection from the first two volumes of Fitzgerald’s short story output. I’m looking forward to reading the remaining 37 stories in the anthology before the year is out.