What an extraordinary thing to read a “new” piece by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the August 6th edition of The New Yorker! I must confess I was a late bloomer with Fitzgerald. I had studied “The Great Gatsby” as an undergrad student and, for reasons that I really can’t defend now, I was not captivated. Perhaps I was subconsciously unnerved by the “unreliable” narrator. When I moved to Baltimore, though, and learned that Fitzgerald had written “Tender is the Night” here, I felt honor bound to read it. From the opening paragraph I was enraptured.
“On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel. Deferential palms cool its flushed façade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach.” (Some editions are different but this was the version I read.)
Notice the “large, proud, rose-colored hotel”; why “proud”?—but it’s perfect. And “rose-colored” immediately conjures up a time and place. The “deferential palms” cooling its “flushed façade” (how did he come up with such imagery?) and the “dazzling” beach complete the vivid picture. I found myself poring over every sentence this way.
Then, of course, I had to re-read Gatsby and, this time, I not only loved Nick Carraway, who is unreliable as a narrator only because he is so fiercely loyal to Gatsby, but I was compelled by the intricate emotionality of the story. Now I look forward to reading all of Fitzgerald’s work once I have completed my MFA program and have the time to read for pleasure again.
Meanwhile, it was a treat to come across this short, dense, one-page wonder “Thank You for the Light” in The New Yorker. Apparently, it was recently found amongst his papers, and had been previously submitted to the magazine (and rejected) in the 1930’s. How wonderful that they have redressed that slight and we now have access to this gem. As always with Fitzgerald, it is incredible how much he can pack into an image, and the piece, as short—and whimsical—as it is, paints not only a vivid and touching picture of the central character, Mrs. Hanson (“a pretty, somewhat faded woman of forty, who sold corsets and girdles”), but also includes a disarming study of addiction, which of course is made all the more poignant in light of Fitzgerald’s struggles with his own addiction.
Like the newly discovered manuscripts of a flute concerto by Vivaldi and a sonata movement by the young Mozart, this short story by Fitzgerald feels like a gift.
The New Yorker illustration by Owen Freeman