‘Dalyrimple Goes Wrong’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Dalyrimple Goes Wrong by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920

The magic trick:

Painting a vivid picture of the complexities facing American soldiers returning home from World War I

This is a deceptively brilliant story. Deceptive because on the surface it can seem lightweight, with its suspenseful tale of cat burglary. But make no mistake, it’s brilliant. It entertains you with plot while painting a fascinating picture of what life was like for Americans returning from World War I.

Dalyrimple comes home a war hero, but six months on he isn’t making much of a life for himself in a low-wage supermarket job. So he turns to a life of crime. Is this a comment on the American economy? On a society that refused to take care of its veterans? A comment on a generation of kids who expect instant success? Or does Dalyrimple simply need an adrenaline rush to feed his adventure fix from the war?

All of the above, no doubt.

It’s an impressively complex story, and like most all of F. Scott’s work, it works as both a snapshot of his time and a thoroughly modern consideration. And that’s quite a trick on Fitzgerald’s part.

The selection:

As a matter of fact his plans were of the vaguest. He had found that with a mind like his, lucrative in intelligence, intuition, and lightning decision, it was best to have but the skeleton of a campaign. The machine-gun episode had taught him that. And he was afraid that a method preconceived would give him two points of view in a crisis, and two points of view meant wavering.

He stumbled slightly on a chair, held his breath, listened, went on, found the hall, found the stairs, started up; the seventh stair creaked at his step, the ninth, the fourteenth. He was counting them automatically. At the third creak he paused again for over a minute, and in that minute he felt more alone than he had ever felt before. Between the lines on patrol, even when alone, he had had behind him the moral support of half a billion people; now he was alone, pitted against that same moral pressure, a bandit. He had never felt this fear, yet he had never felt this exultation.

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