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Group reads > The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (spoilers)

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message 1: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America's most gifted story writers. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a witty and fantastical satire about aging, is one of his most memorable stories.

This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature.

Let the discussion begin.


message 2: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
This is one I felt should have been longer. The story is thought provoking, but the characters of Benjamin's father and son were one dimensional.


message 3: by Edel (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments I am just starting this today. Really looking forward to it. I have seen the film and I am wondering how the book will compare.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

I just borrowed it from the library, but I won't get to it for a couple of days.


message 5: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It's a quick read. Looking forward to the comments from you two.

Happy New Year!!!


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Happy New Year, Ivan!


message 7: by Edel (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments Happy New Year everybody xx


message 8: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I've got my copy and will be reading it over the next couple of days while sitting in waiting rooms (and finishing at the weekend if I don't get through it all by then.) I'm stunned I've actually got a copy of a monthly read at the beginning of the month for a change!


message 9: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Enjoy it.


message 10: by Silver (new)

Silver Ivan wrote: "This is one I felt should have been longer. The story is thought provoking, but the characters of Benjamin's father and son were one dimensional."

I read this story sometime back and I did have some problems with it and I had some major issues with the character of Benjamin. Generally I really like F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I really did not know just what he was trying to say with this story or what the actual point and meaning of it was.

This was a case in which I felt the movie actually was better.


message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 03, 2013 02:00PM) (new)

Oh, I loved this! I think all the characters besides Benjamin were meant to be one-dimensional. It really helped me get into Benjamin's heart and mind, and more easily accept how he came to feel about his father, then his wife, their son, and finally the nursemaid. I felt his world expand and then contract, but in the opposite way that a "normal" life does.


message 12: by Ian (new)

Ian Jeannette wrote: "I felt his world expand and then contract, but in the opposite way that a "normal" life does. "

Well put. The story could have been longer, the characters less one-dimensional, but it did a fantastic job of conveying the general sense of life at different points of time, and I think the short length helped with that in some ways.


message 13: by Ivan (last edited Jan 04, 2013 02:34PM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I enjoyed Fitzgerald's prose style. However, I found the father's response to Benjamin annoying - the secne in the clothing store for instance. Why does the world need to know his business? I simply would have said "I need some clothes for my Uncle Ben." I also wish that his son had been more compassionate as he became younger and younger. Perhaps that is the point of the story - to reflect on how poorly the aged/elderly are treated in our society; if so, poor Benjamin Button got a double whammy.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

The short length really narrowed the focus to what BB was feeling at each point in his life. it was fascinating and horrifying. A longer narrative would have distracted from that, and probably reduced the impact of it.

His father did act in a rather bizarre way, and at first I thought this was going to be a farce. Seriously, feeding BB milk and pablum, just to catch him sneaking a cigar. I imagine it would be rather terrifying to be presented a 70 yo baby at the hospital! I did wonder why the mother was left completely out of the picture, until I realized that the true focus of the story was BB, and what his experience says about all of us in all stages of our lives.


message 15: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The mother probably died giving birth to a full grown man. Better to leave her out of the story.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

hahaha! She's never mentioned....


message 17: by Ivan (last edited Jan 04, 2013 02:32PM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
But why? Why this? Why that? I've always been this way. I've never had much tolerance for the implausible in fiction or films. Benjamin Button was born fully grown, walking and talking? How did he learn language? I realize I'm taking the story too literally; and I did enjoy it (really, I did). I think one of the reasons that I like H. G. Wells so very much, is that he renders the incredible plausible. To my limited knowledge, Fitzgerald was not known for writing fantasay or science fiction, perhaps that explains the absense of particulars in this narrative.

Epiphany!: it's simply a morality tale; a parable. Like the story of Jonah and the whale. People will spend all their time arguing whether it was a whale or a "great fish" and miss the moral of the story - which is that no matter how far you roam, to the top of the highest mountain or the bottom of the sea, you can't run away from God or your own conscience - no matter where you go, there you are. It's not a fish story - there is no fish - the fish is just a storytelling device.

But what is the moral here?


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

It made me sentimental in places, it spoke to me, I guess. But, I don't know that there was a moral, per se. It's an interesting piece for it's historical references, too. BB career in the military, the social customs of the times, etc. And, how "twisted" that BB's wife married him because he was mature, and they both changed their minds as she aged and he youthed.


message 19: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Jeannette wrote: "It made me sentimental in places, it spoke to me, I guess. But, I don't know that there was a moral, per se. It's an interesting piece for it's historical references, too. BB career in the milit..."

I found that aspect of the story fascinating. Men seem to gravitate toward youth and beauty anyway, so this relationship seemed doomed from the start (at least they had the years in between).


message 20: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I read this today for the 2nd time, this time on my computer, the 1st time on my phone. Oddly, the only literary think I've read on either!

Since the discussion is currently on his wife. I'd just like to add that I found her character to be the most Fitgeraldian element of the story. Their conversation at the party was so typical FSF.


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

In what way? (I haven't read much by Fitzgerald.)


message 22: by Silver (new)

Silver Ivan wrote: "But why? Why this? Why that? I've always been this way. I've never had much tolerance for the implausible in fiction or films. Benjamin Button was born fully grown, walking and talking? How d..."

What the moral/point of the story is intended to be is one of the things which bothered me as well in reading it. Particularly since I found Benjamin himself to be extremely unsympathetic. Quite frankly I did not think he was likeable, in spite of what he was going through and the fact that he was mistreated at points, and he was going through something others could not understand or accept, he really was something of a jerk I thought. Thus I do not feel his character actually leaned anything or grew from his own experience.

When I was expressing these concerns and thought elsewhere someone had told me that the story should just be taken as a tall tale, or an old yarn, and that in fact it was not intended to have a moral as it were. It was just meant to be a fantastical story.


message 23: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It was so difficult for my father to lose control of himself and his independence; and it frustrated and angered him so. He was irascible and hard to handle long before he went into decline. But he was also very loving and nurturing and extremely funny. His father died when he was very young – I was so lucky to have had him in my life for 47 years. What an opportunity it would have been had he gradually become a child and then an infant. How different our relationship would have been (obviously). God how I’d have loved to spend that time with him, to play with him, read to him – just to hold him quietly and gentle him into the next life.


message 24: by Edel (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments It was such a sad story. As he got younger losing memories as he became an infant really affected me. It was one of those moments where you sit back and really think about life and death. As a child visiting old folks homes where members of my family were I remember seeing an old woman and she had a new doll(we were visiting at Christmas) I remember asking my mother why the old lady had a doll and mum said it brought her comfort . Looking back now that old lady had in her mind gone back to a child like form and found comfort in the things she may have perhaps loved as a child. As little as I understood about it at the time I felt sad and worried that that would happen to everyone as they got older. I was afraid . I never expected this book to effect me so much. Even though I saw the film first the book made the most impact. I think the shortness of it and how blunt it was really packed a punch.


message 25: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It is certainly a thought provoking piece.


message 26: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Jeannette wrote: "In what way? (I haven't read much by Fitzgerald.)"

Of what I've read - Gatsby/Tender is the Night - his characters/women seem to live for the moment, the women (and this is partly because of the times) are quite interested in appearance and having a good time. I'm no expert, but the conversation felt oddly familiar.


message 27: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Ivan wrote: "It was so difficult for my father to lose control of himself and his independence; and it frustrated and angered him so. He was irascible and hard to handle long before he went into decline. But ..."

So sad, Ivan. It's interesting for you to bring that up right now. I'm reading a book called "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson in which a 70-yr-old clergyman is writing down what he'd like to pass on to his 7-yr-old son from a late-life 2nd marriage. Have you read this?


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

Mmars wrote: "Jeannette wrote: "In what way? (I haven't read much by Fitzgerald.)"

Of what I've read - Gatsby/Tender is the Night - his characters/women seem to live for the moment, the women (and this is part..."


Thanks.


message 29: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Edel wrote: "It was such a sad story. As he got younger losing memories as he became an infant really affected me. It was one of those moments where you sit back and really think about life and death. As a chil..."

Oh, Edel! I did the very same thing yesterday - I was stunned about how the ending hit me but in a different way. What if, rather than aging with aches and pains and loneliness we could just do the opposite and be babies again and leave this life cuddled and loved as only babies are. Sorry, I know that's a somewhat depressing thought. I'm not letting myself dwell on it.


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

But Benjamin wasn't really cuddled and loved, except by his nursemaid. In his teens and early twenties, he began to realize all the things he could not achieve, lost all sense of who he had been. That's the sad part.


message 31: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Mmars wrote: "Ivan wrote: "It was so difficult for my father to lose control of himself and his independence; and it frustrated and angered him so. He was irascible and hard to handle long before he went into d..."

No. I'll look at it. Thanks.


message 32: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Jeannette wrote: "But Benjamin wasn't really cuddled and loved, except by his nursemaid. In his teens and early twenties, he began to realize all the things he could not achieve, lost all sense of who he had been. ..."

Yes, that is the sad part.


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

I will say one thing for this story, the more I think about it, the more I get out of it. Very thought-provoking.


message 34: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Jeannette wrote: "But Benjamin wasn't really cuddled and loved, except by his nursemaid. In his teens and early twenties, he began to realize all the things he could not achieve, lost all sense of who he had been. ..."

True. I don't know, for me it just seemed like a nice way to go.


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

The gentle part, with no fear sounds very nice. Otherwise, it seems too much like Alzheimer's to me. And, that frightens me, personally.


message 36: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Jeannette wrote: "The gentle part, with no fear sounds very nice. Otherwise, it seems too much like Alzheimer's to me. And, that frightens me, personally."

Yeah, I thought of that, too. Still wouldn't mind going out the way I came. Cute & cuddly - at least I think I was.


message 37: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 06, 2013 09:06AM) (new)

I'll take cute and cuddly, but maybe pass on the drooling part. ;)


message 38: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Back to Fitzgerald's short stories. An very short article here:

http://www.gradesaver.com/short-stori...

describes his heroines as "spirited, confident, and beautiful."

I started reading this for the 3rd time now, this time on the Kindle, and thinking more about the story's themes and the "moral of the story." I am struck by the amount of denial displayed by everyone - his father, his wife, his whole family. So perhaps Fitzgerald was trying to say something about families using denial to maintain normalcy after experiencing something shameful.


message 39: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
This is very common – pretend it didn't happen or at least minimize the significance of the event. Why are people so addicted to normalcy? If I were a teacher I would encourage my students to let their freak flags fly. No one who ever achieved greatness was “normal,” every one of them dared to stand out from the crowd.


message 40: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Yeah, at the minimum letting those "abormals" feel that they are A.o.k.


message 41: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I finished this last night. I am thinking of it now stream-of-consciousness fashion, so I preemptively apologize for rambling.

I really, really wanted to like this. Being a fan of speculative fiction, whenever a mainstream author kicks up their heels by writing something fantastical, I tend to be very enthusiastic and supportive. (I see it as helping undermine the erroneous mental concept of "genre ghetto.") But while there were hints at a really interesting story here, overall I was underwhelmed and frequently annoyed.

So many details were lacking. We hopped about through BB's life, leaving huge gaps of years uncovered. Where's Mom? (I immediately assumed she'd be dead from birthing a 5'7" person, but then I also assumed a pregnant woman might be just a wee bit gigantic and/or deceased in the months before such a birth, too.) Conveniently, BB springs forth from his invisible mother (fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus...) with full command of both spoken English and his bodily functions...and he can read! I don't care if you have the appearance of an aged man - If you're brand new, you're brand new.

I am adept at suspending my disbelief, but an author has to make it feel as if they and I are on the same side. If you want me to swallow a premise such as this, even for the hour or so it takes me to journey through your story, you need to attend to certain details of logistics. I spent far too much time actively and audibly arguing with the author, calling bs and reading parts aloud to my poor boyfriend with a sarcastic tone to my voice. I would have put on my sci-fi/fantasy hat and happily accepted all Fitzgerald had to give me IF he had only connected a few dots. As it was, I was frustrated.

I get that there is a lot of both satire and social commentary/critique happening here. These were not lost on me. But the overall story is marred for me, and I am left feeling like I've just read a 12-year-old's half-hearted creative writing assignment. I feel almost guilty for having these impressions, but I must be honest.

Another beef: I started out feeling neutral-to-sympathetic towards Benjamin himself - fella's going through some seriously strange stuff. But when he started age-shaming his wife for the natural process of aging and thinking about how "depressingly" "ugly" she was becoming, all my sympathy fled. Now he just seemed like a jerk to me, and I couldn't feel for him further.

It occurs to me while writing this and thinking on how BB can speak and read at birth but is seen learning words near death: Could this all be a farce-and-satire-wrapped rumination on the concept of looking back over one's life, the nature of memory, and even of one's life flashing before one's eyes at the moment of death? Might not that life flash in reverse due to most recent memories being most firm in one's mind? Honestly, I don't know that I think Fitzgerald actually intended any sort of deep, nuanced metaphorical "meaning" with this story, but then his readers throughout the years fill that in for ourselves, don't we?


message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

I like the points you bring up, Candiss. Fitzgerald certainly wrote a story that evokes an emotional response, whether negative or positive. I found that I thought about this a lot, even though it is very short, and a little slim on details. It was hard to sympathize with BB much of the time, and yet, I think he got a very bad deal.


message 43: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Candiss wrote: "I finished this last night. I am thinking of it now stream-of-consciousness fashion, so I preemptively apologize for rambling.

I really, really wanted to like this. Being a fan of speculative fi..."


Yes, lots of questions and then still more questions. Still, it is material that sparks opinion and comment.


message 44: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Hi Candiss,
Quite sure it would be hard to find anyone who would argue that this is FSF's best work! The word that comes to my mind is that it's "amateurish." My nattering thought as I read it was "Oh, Scott, you can do so much better than this!"

I like your thought of that this story was like having your life pass before your eyes before death.

I'm starting to wonder if FSF wrote this one night in a rather drunken stupor.


message 45: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) Ivan wrote: "Still, it is material that sparks opinion and comment. ..."

It most certainly is. Honestly, I doubt I would have been spurred to go on at such length if I had no qualms with the story, no questions unanswered, no thorns in my readerly side. The story has certainly stuck with me, as I'm still mulling and arguing internally with Fitzgerald's shade. :)


message 46: by Craig (new)

Craig | 30 comments My first impression after reading this was same as Mmars . . . he was drunk! Or maybe it was never intended to be published or maybe it was on a dare or who knows but I couldn't see the point to it.
As I was reading I noticed Fitzgerald paying extra attention to image, perception and vision. I noticed this because the story is short on details but there are some parts very descriptive of eyes. There are some parts where the language talks of, "what a picture he made going down the street" etc. and an inordinate amount of worry about how the characters will be perceived. The two scenes in the clothing store where his father becomes flustered about how he will look walking down the street and later Benjamin flustered trying to buy a uniform. Why was so much attention payed to these trivial scenes in such a short story? Then there was the ridiculous irony of Benjamin's shame being seen with an older Hildegarde. Ultimately I gave up on any theories with no evidence to back it up. I keep returning to "Curious" in the title. It may just be a curious tale.
The two things that bothered me most were no mention about his mother, (her character could have explained a lot) and that Benjamin loses his memory at the end. He just forgets everything? There is no catharsis?
I did a quick search online and one theory is that Benjamin is most unhappy when he has to pretend to be an age he doesn't feel. When he was born he wanted to smoke cigars and read not play with toys. Basically Fitzgerald is saying your age dictates a lot about how you feel along with your tastes and vitality. A lot of your personality is changed and influenced by your age.


message 47: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Three definitions of curious that I think are appropriate to the book:

- Curious implies a desire to know what is not properly one's concern: curious about a neighbor's habits.

- Interesting because of oddness or novelty; strange; unexpected

- Arousing or exciting speculation, interest, or attention through being inexplicable or highly unusual; odd; strange: a curious sort of person; a curious scene.

There's also "prying, meddlesome" but that seems less appropriate to the usage of the title.


message 48: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Yes, Craig. It did feel more like a writing exercise, not a worked and reworked piece for publication.


message 49: by Bernice (new)

Bernice Rocque | 8 comments Hi Everyone. Happy New Year !!!!

I was reminded how crisp and spartan Fitzgerald's prose was. So many we'll chosen words and artful sentences, even though I suspect this was not as polished as a work like Gatsby. Without knowing much at all about this story, I could imagine it's genesis perhaps in a conversation about the shallowness of socially correct behavior at the time. Why not create a fantastical situation in which that fact gets pushed behind reactions about appearance and the shame of variation from normal. Wasn't his wife mentally ill. Does anyone know if she was ill when this was written? B.


message 50: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Bernice wrote: "Hi Everyone. Happy New Year !!!!

I was reminded how crisp and spartan Fitzgerald's prose was. So many we'll chosen words and artful sentences, even though I suspect this was not as polished as ..."


I recently re-read "Gatsby" and it is superior in every way to this work.


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