This is the last and unfinished novel by FSF and it is a sympathetic portrait of movie mogul Monroe Stahr who is the chief executive of a paternalistic film studio in Hollywood. Stahr is hard working and focussed on churning out a new movie every eight days but at the same time he is dedicated to developing talent and developing this new art form. By accident, during an earthquake, Stahr meets a woman who looks exactly like his late wife: they embark on a romantic love affair even though she is about to get married.
The book is narrated by Celia, the daughter of Stahr's partner in the studio, who has a crush on Stahr and wants to make love to him while he just sees her as his partner's daughter. It swings in and out of the first person. Stahr is portrayed as compellingly human behind the move facade.
One particular feature of the book, which is a first draft and includes some errors and inconsistencies, is the way Fitzgerald wove real movie actors and film people in and out of the story. This gives the book extra verisimilitude.
Fitzgerald is very touching when he takes Stahr and Kathleen and moves them from strangers to lovers. The dialogue hints at unknown back stories which will inevitably complicate their romance. What they do is normal, yet they are moving closer together, yet there is nothing inevitable about what happens until the final moments. This was beautifully and delicately handled.
But my favourite scene is the one where Stahr is teaching a writer how to write for the movies and I imagine this must have been based on a personal experience of Fitzgerald's. Stahr diagnoses that the reason that the writer is disaffected is that he somehow sees movie scripting as unworthy because he sees movies as being mass-produced assembly-line creations which own everything to cliche and nothing to art. The writer wants to have melodrama everywhere. Stahr then paints a word picture of a movie scene:
"Suppose you're in your office .... A pretty stenographer that you've seen before comes into the room and you watch her - idly. She doesn't see you, though you're very close to her. She takes off her gloves, opens her purse and dumps it out on a table .... She has two dimes and a nickel - and a cardboard match box. She leaves the nickel on the desk, puts the two dimes back into her purse and takes her black gloves to the stove, opens it and puts them inside. There is one match by the matchbox and she starts to light it kneeling by the stove. You notice that there's a stiff wind blowing in the window - but just then your telephone rings. The girls picks it up, says hello - listens - and says deliberately into the phone, 'I've never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.' ....
What a start to a story. Proof that movies can be as great an art form as novels. Later in the book the writer, who still feels this is all beneath him, is taken by Stahr into a meeting where the writing teams on another movie have got stuck and he starts to sort it out.
I loved this book! (Although the synopsis of what Fitzgerald planned for the rest of it made me shout out: "No, that isn't how this develops!"
Fitzgerald also wrote The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night.
October 2014; 169 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57