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Thursday, January 10, 2013

FITZGERALD'S "THANK YOU FOR THE LIGHT," A GEM OF A STORY

There was a hidden jewel among the F. Scott Fitzgerald papers set for auction at Sotheby’s.  His grandchildren, perusing those papers, rescued  a previously unpublished short story, “Thank You for the Light,” a story rejected by The New Yorker in 1936.  Finally published in August of 2012, we become  Fitzgerald's beneficiaries, enjoying a new story published untouched by editors (a significant point) seventy-one years after his death.  It is a gem of a story whose main character is so different from the Jazz Agers usually associated with Fitzgerald’s work that we are forced to think about it a bit differently. 

Mrs. Hanson sells girdles and corsets.  Her life is tired.  Her single passion is her addiction to cigarettes—an addiction often frowned on in women by the people--usually men--she meets professionally, so at the end of a long, hard, smokeless day, she really longs for a cigarette.  She is so desperate one evening that she stops in the vestibule of a Catholic church to sneak a quick smoke.  What happens there is the crux of this one-page story, and I found it simple, touching and, in a way, beautiful. 

In 1936, Fitzgerald was also writing about his own depression and problems, including the alcoholism that had pretty much destroyed his career.  Mrs. Hanson’s common humanity untouched by the overindulgence-caused complexity we see in “The Great Gatsby” and in Fitzgerald’s last completed novel “Tender is the Night,” gives us a glimpse into the desperation of addiction.  He does it with a gentle grace and style and without condemnation.

This is a great, quick read that reminds us of what a truly fine author can accomplish in a few words.  For your Kindle, “Thank You for the Light” is available for $.99, and for the same price you can get it for your Nook at Barnes & Noble.  If you are already a digital subscriber to The New Yorker, you can find it in their Aug. 6, 2012 archives. 

If you recognize Fitzgerald’s greatness, this little diamond is shining brightly for you.  
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