As I write this week’s Sunday Salon, I am reviewing Spring Break and the books I have read during my time off. There are precious few: In The Woods by Tana French, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, half of Eat Sleep Sit by Kaoru Nonomura, and all of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The last one was easy because it’s only a short story, originally published in 1922 in Tales of the Jazz Age by Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Here is the title page of the edition I found on Friday at our local library:
Title: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Author: F. Scott Fitgerald
Publisher: Collins/Design, 2008
Number of pages: 60
Rating: 2 out of 5
Here is Mr. Roger Button (nicknamed Cuff, at Yale) racing through the streets of Baltimore “to determine whether the darkness of the night had borne in new life upon its bosom.” (p. 5)
“Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partly crammed into one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a long smoke-colored beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window.” (p. 10)
“But a frantic inspection of the boys’ department revealed no suits to fit the new-born Button. He blamed the store, of course-in such cases it is the thing to blame the store.” (p. 14)
“But Mr. Button persisted in his unwavering purpose. Benjamin was a baby, and a baby he should remain.
One day he brought home a rattle and, giving it to Benjamin, insisted in no uncertain terms that he should ‘play with it’, whereupon the old man took it with a weary expression and could be heard jingling it obediently at intervals throughout the day.” (p. 20)
“One September day in 1910-a few years after Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware, had been handed over to young Roscoe Button (Benjamin’s son)-a man, apparently about twenty years old, entered himself as a freshman at Harvard University in Cambridge. He did not make the mistake of announcing that he would never see fifty again, nor did he mention the fact that his son had been graduated from the same institution ten years before.” (p. 46)
“There were no troublesome memories in his childish sleep; no token came to him of his brave days at college, of the glittering years when he flustered the hearts of many girls. There were only the white, safe walls of his cribe and Nana and a man who came to see him sometimes, and a great big orange ball that Nana pointed at just before his twilight bed hour and called “sun.”
Then it was all dark, and his white crib and the dim faces that moved above him, and the warm sweet aroma of the milk, faded out altogether from his mind.” (p. 59)
The story was incredibly short; it’s amazing that a film lasting approximatley three hours could be made from such a story. Of course, the film added all kinds of details: Benjamin living in the nursing home, adopted by another family, falling in love with the beautiful girl whom he stayed with all of his life. None of these things happened in the short story.
The most redeeming quality of the story to me was how it seemed to scoff at our expectations, especially as parents. Benjamin arrived in the world a complete surprise, backwards as it were, and lived his life from an old man to a baby which completely defied what his father, or any other adult, would have him do.
For that, this book made me smile, and try not to take life so seriously.