"The Beautiful and Damned" is the perfect title for this novel, as well as for the author's life with his wife Zelda.
This is Fitzgerald's second novel, and he had become wealthy and famous. His protagonist and his wife--Anthony and Gloria Patch--move in a circle of rich, hard-drinking sybarites, who seem to move glibly from party to party. (On the first edition dust jacket, Anthony and Gloria are painted as Scott & Zelda)
Anthony doesn't want to work. After graduating from Harvard, he wanders around Europe for a few years, before moving to New York City to live. He finds a nice apartment, and lives well on his allowance, while waiting for his industrialist grandfather to die, at which point he'll be a bazillionaire.
He meets Gloria, the young, beautiful cousin of his Harvard chum, Dick, and is smitten. As is she: the couple marry, enjoy a protracted honeymoon, and settle back into NYC's pre-War party scene.
Gradually, their life together crumbles. The only consistent motifs are A) that they don't want to work, and B) that their investments are not producing enough income to cover their lifestyle.
When Anthony's grandfather finally does die, he leaves not a dime to Anthony.
All-too-soon, World War One looms, and Anthony applies, with his friends Maury and Dick, to go to officer training school. Anthony fails the medical.
This doesn't prevent him from being drafted later, and he's shipped south for basic training.
Far from home, Anthony finds affection in the arms of Dot, a local girl.
The war ends before Anthony's unit can be shipped overseas, and he and Gloria are reunited. They quarrel over money, and find any excuse to drink, which seems the only way they can tolerate life and each other. They wait for Anthony's lawsuit against his grandfather's estate to settle.
Their apartments get smaller, their clothes less-trendy and more frayed, and the need for alcoholic oblivion even stronger.
What is disturbing about "The Beautiful and Damned" is how loathsome Fitzgerald obviously finds this society, especially himself.
At one point, Anthony is talking to Dick--an author of great success--and Dick talks of how vapid modern fiction is, and how everyone asks him whether he's read "This Side of Paradise." Dick decries how detestible the characters in "Paradise" are.
"This Side of Paradise," of course, was F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel.
It's obvious that Fitzgerald and Anthony are both alcoholic, and that Gloria--like Zelda--is both a big drinker, and suffering from early stages of mental illness.
Things hit rock-bottom: Anthony has bounced checks, and been thrown out of a club where he and his friends once held court. They're at the absolute bottom. Then he wins his lawsuit. He's rich again, but we sense--as the book concludes with Anthony and Gloria aboardship for Italy--that he really didn't "win" anything at all.
This is not an easy book to read. Its tale of the bon vivant who loses everything reminded me of "The Magnificent Ambersons," but this was just so much sadder. Maybe part of it is knowing how similar is the author's life, that just three years later, he would publish "The Great Gatsby," which made it impossible for him ever to turn back.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote beautifully; he lived too fast, and died too young. Maybe that tragic darkness makes his sentences shine that much brighter.