It’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (1896-1940) famous short story for this week’s review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. After the 2008 film adaptation, many might think this is a full novel. But at just over 25 pages, it’s far from that (duh!). As it’s so slight, it’s often bundled together in book form with the writer’s other short stories.
Fitzgerald is most famous for The Great Gatsby, of course, a novel we thought was beautifully written, but lacking in an interesting story arc. But this celebrated short story is much more innovative. It tells the story of the eponymous Mr. Button as he travels through life backwards – as an old man at birth, up to baby form at old age. Yikes.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
First appearing in Collier’s magazine on May 27th, 1922, we have here a tale set in 1860. Benjamin Button is born. His father is horrified and at first wonders if he’s mad, or the hospital has played a joke on him. But his son is indeed born, just with the exterior outlook of an old age pensioner.
His father, attempting stoic pride, goes out to buy some clothes for his son and baffles a shop assistant with his order. His father also struggles to comprehend the different needs of his unusual son, demanding he play with kids toys. Benjamin relents and goes along with this to keep his father happy.
Then we see the development of Benjamin Button’s life. The trials he has to go through, such as attempting to enrol in college but being laughed out as senile. By 1910, he looks like a 20 year old, has married and then divorced Hildegarde Moncrief (as her looks have faded – how charming), and had children. Fittingly, the story ends with his demise – everything fading to black.
Synopsis done! But, it’s not the only book from that era with a similar idea, interestingly, as a British author called Oliver Onions (brilliant surname) had a more sci-fi led work published in 1941.
We don’t know if Fitzgerald was inspired by that, but it’s not uncommon for writers to have similar ideas around the same time – take all the dystopian works, triggered off thanks to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We in 1921.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one for all literary buffs to read. It’s so short – why not? And such a tale is always going to lead to much chin stroking contemplation. You can find anything here – an existential parable, religious tomfoolery, themes of identity, humanity, and family. You can debate that lot all you look, or enjoy an interesting concept delivered with panache over 25 short pages.
David Fincher got behind this project to direct. Stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett stepped up for the lead roles. This does lead to some special effects wizardry for Mr. Pitt, as the eponymous Mr. Button, to make him tick through the years. The film adaptation received mixed reviews.
The most notable element is the script was fleshed out in various places to fully document Button’s life story – the short story kind of brushes over much of it – which helps to ramp up the drama and pathos. But it’s well worth a watch if you’re a fan of Fitzgerald’s work, or want to think long and hard about being a baby in your old age.