‘Benediction’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Benediction by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920

The magic trick:

An elegantly drawn plot twist at the end

We’re off to Maryland this week.

We begin with F. Scott Fitzgerald, not born, raised or schooled in Maryland. But he is buried there. And today’s story is set in Baltimore.

In truth, it’s mostly set within the heart of Lois, our young protagonist. She is visiting her brother at a Baltimore monastery, and their afternoon together sends her into a spiritual turmoil.

She is very much of her time – all talk of embracing birth control and loosening the oppressive grip of Catholicism. But she is quite taken with her brother. The church, through his – what she calls – sweetness, is appealing enough to confuse her values.

In many ways it’s a classically Fitzgerald story. These really are his central concerns – the generational values clash.

But I’ll pause here and redirect the magic appreciation so that we’re focused on the ending. It’s a brilliant little twist. Lois leaves the monastery, and the reader suddenly is with the staff in the train station. They assemble a telegram she composed and then tore. On it, we get a complicated message that tells us everything and nothing. It’s a neat way of trusting the reader to figure it all out. And that’s quite a trick on Fitzgerald’s part.

The selection:

“Lois,” he broken off suddenly, “I want to tell you before we go any farther how much it means to me to have you come up here. I think it was—mighty sweet of you. I know what a gay time you’ve been having.”

Lois gasped. She was not prepared for this. At first when she had conceived the plan of taking the hot journey down to Baltimore staying the night with a friend and then coming out to see her brother, she had felt rather consciously virtuous, hoped he wouldn’t be priggish or resentful about her not having come before—but walking here with him under the trees seemed such a little thing, and surprisingly a happy thing.

“Why, Kieth,” she said quickly, “you know I couldn’t have waited a day longer. I saw you when I was five, but of course I didn’t remember, and how could I have gone on without practically ever having seen my only brother?”

“It was mighty sweet of you, Lois,” he repeated.

Lois blushed—he did have personality.

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