Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Title: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Genre: Classics / Short Stories
First published: 1922

Rating: 5 out of 10

I recently saw the movie version of this story, and so I bought the Fitzgerald version and sat down to read it.
Normally, it is almost unheard of for a movie to be better than the book (in my opinion), but for this one, I have to disagree.

I suppose that being a short story, Fitzgerald couldn't possibly have filled in all of the details that I was eager to read. I can't help wishing that he would have decided to write this one as a full novel instead. The idea of the story is just so intriguing, I would have love to have spent more time in the story.

The plot line is the following: By a stroke of mind boggling chance, Mr. and Mrs. Button manage to parent a newborn... old man. Though bewildered, they do their best to give their son the best life they know how. But as Benjamin grows up, he becomes younger, not older. This complicates his entire life, including aspirations to attend college, his marriage, how he relates to his children and grandchildren, and much more.

I love the idea here, of a man aging backwards, and yet there was a lot about the story that I did not like.
First of all, a lot of it didn't make very much sense. For example, Mrs. Button has a baby and it is a normal sized old man. At least in the movie they tried to make this plausible - the newborn was the ordinary size for a baby, only its face and skin was that of an old man. But here, the baby isn't a baby at all. He literally IS an old man. Now this is of course, impossible. No woman could give birth to a human being the same size as herself!
Also, minutes after being born, Benjamin can speak. I suppose that this was done to further the notion that he is an old man and in no way a baby or a child. However, this is, again, impossible. I think that I like the movie's version better - he learns to speak gradually, like any other child in the world.

Another thing that is not necessarily a flaw but that annoyed me was the character of Benjamin's wife, Hildegarde Moncrief. I have to admit that I was expecting a love story here, but actually Benjamin neither loves nor is ever loved by any woman in his life, besides his mother. Hildegarde is introduced to the story so that Benjamin can marry her, and after that never really appears again except to be mentioned two or three times. It is said that Benjamin finds her annoying, and later that she has gone to Italy. After this, she vanishes altogether from the story. She must have died at some time in Benjamin's lifetime, since she was technically so much older than him, but that is never mentioned either.
I hate to keep saying this (it seems a bit wrong to say about any book - especially one written by Fitzgerald!), but again, I like how the movie portrayed this part much better.
The love story that the screenwriters added in was lovely, one that conquered time, age, and death. But, don't expect any of that here.

I am not saying that this short story was horrid... I liked the occasional bit of dry humor, and I was laughing at the jibes Fitzgerald kept poking at Yale!

Perhaps if I had read the short story before I saw the movie, I would have liked it more, but I couldn't stop myself from looking for something deeper here, and I didn't find it. Not surprising, considering that this is only a short story, but nevertheless, it didn't impress me.