The Lost Decade by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1939
The magic trick:
Writing a story that applies to both the individual and a generation
Fitzgerald was either very lucky or very gifted to always be absolutely of his time. It’s uncanny. His career arc – and likewise the tenor of his fiction – followed to a tee the highs and lows of his generation, from youthful and willful ignorance of the post-war Jazz Age on through the stock market collapse, the Depression and the horrors of World War II. On second thought, the connection isn’t uncanny at all. It’s very, very canny.
Oh well. Whether or not a product of fate, it’s still not easy to write small and big at the same time. The point about this story is: he is able to indulge his own personal morass while still tying it to a larger context. The individual of the story lost a decade to alcoholism and personal tragedy. But the readership certainly would know a thing about a lost decade reading the story as they were in 1939. The story works both ways. And that’s quite a trick on Fitzgerald’s part.
He paused by the brass entablature in the cornerstone of the building. “Erected 1928,” it said.
“But I was taken drunk that year — every-which-way drunk. So I never saw it before now.”
“Oh.” Orrison hesitated. “Like to go in now?”
“I’ve been in it — lots of times. But I’ve never seen it. And now it isn’t what I want to see. I wouldn’t ever be able to see it now. I simply want to see how people walk and what their clothes and shoes and hats are made of. And their eyes and hands. Would you mind shaking hands with me?”
“Not at all, sir.”
“Thanks. Thanks. That’s very kind. I suppose it looks strange — but people will think we’re saying good-by. I’m going to walk up the avenue for awhile, so we will say good-by. Tell your office I’ll be in at four.”
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.