“I’d Die for You” gathers 18 uncollected F. Scott Fitzgerald stories and movie treatments discovered by the author’s estate or known to be in archives at Princeton or the University of South Carolina.
His best writing is grounded in a specific time and place, and then propelled by his deep emotional attachment to the subject matter. For example, Owl Eyes’ lines in “The Great Gatsby” about theatrical producer David Belasco — known for his realistic sets — conveys volumes about Jay Gatsby and his attempt to create an illusion of being upper-class.
A similar line occurs near the beginning of the title story of this collection when a group of filmmakers at a North Carolina resort label a stranger who has entered the dining room as a possible “Mdivani.” The Mdivanis were former Caucasus aristocrats whose exploits wooing rich women garnered a mention in a U.S. congressional hearing in 1935, the year Fitzgerald wrote the story.
Rejected by slick magazine publishers for its suicidal conclusion, “I’d Die for You” reaches deep into Fitzgerald’s own experience when he attempted to take his own life in a place he and Zelda haunted in Asheville, N.C., while she sought treatment for her mental illness.
The remaining pieces lack what one disappointed editor perceptively called Fitzgerald’s “incandescent” quality. They suffer from several deficiencies, not the least of which is Fitzgerald’s absence of knowledge about the subject matter.
For example, “Travel Together,” another story from the mid-1930s, is about a man and woman riding the rails as hoboes, a lifestyle about as far removed from Fitzgerald’s as one could get. Outlandish coincidences surrounding missing jewels don’t make it any more digestible.
“Gracie at Sea,” a film treatment that Fitzgerald wrote for George Burns and Gracie Allen, has one great physical gag when the Allen character misses christening a boat with a bottle of wine and chases it down the ways. The rest of the plot revolves around finding a baby — Moses-like — in a basket in the ocean followed by utterly unbelievable attempts to keep the discovery secret.
That is not to say this collection is without merit. The inclusion of the same story with different endings (“Thumbs Up” and “Dentist Appointment”) shows curious readers how the author tried to mine an idea. Fitzgerald’s use of payments to college athletes as a conflict in “Offside Play” indicates just how fresh he can be. In addition, editor Anne Margaret Daniel’s individual story introductions are highly informative, and her extensive annotations are illuminating.
Dave Page of Hastings is the author of the forthcoming “F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota.”
I'd Die for You and Other Lost Stories
By: F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Publisher: Scribner, 358 pages, $28.