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February 2

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Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

by Ann-Katrina

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Back Cover of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Tales of the Jazz Age

Fitzgerald’s talent for short fiction is on display in this selection of four of his finest tales, chosen from two collections: Flappers and Philosophers (1920) and Tales of the Jazz Age (1922). Included are “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a fantasy whose protagonist is born an old man and ages in reverse; “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” a coming-of-age story about a daring young flapper; “The Jelly-Bean,” a story of disillusionment and love lost; and “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong,” a case of a character torn between self and society.

Three Quick Points About The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Tales of the Jazz Age

  • Point 1: Another era. Not gonna lie, Fitzgerald’s language caught me off guard a couple of times, but it certainly reminded that he was writing in another era.
  • Point 2: Life can be frustrating. It seems that your time line doesn’t matter, you’ll still come up against obstacles; they’ll only be slightly different.
  • Point 3: Sad. That’s what I felt when the story of Benjamin Button ended.

Full Review of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Tales of the Jazz Age

Let me be upfront and say that this is more of a short story review than an entire book review. I’ve only read the cover story, which was my reason for purchasing the book in the first place. However, if you have no interest in owning the book, you can read the entire story of Benjamin Button for free online.

As time progresses, I’m sure that I will read the remaining stories in the book, but right now, it’s all about Benjamin. So, without further ado…

Before reading the full review, please note that there may be some spoilers. I tried to keep it vague enough not to spoil the entire story, but be warned. If you’d rather not take any chances, skip the synopsis and go straight to the final thoughts.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Tales of the Jazz Age Synopsis

This is a short story (roughly 31 pages) of a man named Benjamin Button who was born an old man one morning in a Baltimore hospital.  His birth was enough to make everyone uneasy, especially his father Roger Button, who tried everything in his power to make Benjamin seem more acceptable.

He forced Benjamin to wear short pants, cut his long white beard, dye his hair, and try to play with children his own age. Unfortunately, for a man of threescore and ten, romping around with young children wasn’t going to happen, especially since he needed a cane to get around. During that time, Benjamin spent his time smoking cigars and passing time with his grandfather, who was roughly the same age.

When Benjamin turns twelve, chronologically, and realizes that he’s growing younger, he declares that he’s grown and demands his father let him wear long trousers. After a bit of discourse, and agreeing to maintain the facade of youth by dying his hair and trimming his whiskers and not wearing his glasses or carrying a cane on the street, his wish is granted.

At the age of eighteen, and physically fifty, Benjamin was shipped off to Yale to attend university. After the registrar caught sight of him, he was laughed off the campus, quite literally.

Soon, he began keeping the company of his father, who was of the same age—people often remarked that they two looked like brothers. While attending a social affair, Benjamin met his future wife; it was a case of love at first sight. Despite protests in the community, the two were wed and eventually had a child, who they named Roscoe.

Benjamin continued to age backwards as his family continued to age normally. Soon, his wife (who he’d lost interest in) and son became frustrated with him and assumed that he was the cause of his strange predicament. That was enough for Benjamin to join the military.

After becoming a decorated soldier and veteran of the Spanish-American war, it was time to go back to school. This time around, he looked roughly the right age, though a little large for a freshman, and he attended Harvard. But, the last two years wasn’t a cake walk because he continued to get younger and soon, people thought he was some sort of child prodigy who received early admission.

From there, life only continued to seem more difficult and painful for Benjamin until eventually, regressing until he was no more.

Final Thoughts On The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Tales of the Jazz Age

The story itself is timeless, but it’s made apparent that it was written in a different era; the language is one you don’t see used too often in this day and age.

In the opening scene, when Roger Button learns of his predicament and while playing the scenario of taking Benjamin home in his head, he passes a slave market and for a dark instant Mr. Button wished passionately that his son was black.

There’s nothing that seems maliciously racial in the story; however someone going into the story without a mindset for the setting (circa late 19th century) might be knocked off kilter to read such plain references to slavery.

And as I did with Island of the Blue Dolphins, I felt a slight pang when I came across the word gay used for its original meaning, to be happy and carefree, and wondered how it would be construed today. Would the story be rendered gay as a result?

In context, however, the story was an enjoyable read. There were instances I found myself having a good chuckle out loud:

“See here,” the old man announced suddenly, “if you think I’m going to walk home in this blanket, you’re entirely mistaken.”

“Babies always have blankets.”

With a malicious crackle the old man held up a small white swaddling garment. “Look!” he quavered. “This is what they had ready for me.”

“Babies always wear those,” said the nurse primly.

“Well,” said the old man, “this baby’s not going to wear anything in about two minutes. This blanket itches. They might at least have given me a sheet.”

“Keep it on! Keep it on!” said Mr. Button hurriedly.

At the beginning of the story, I found Benjamin to be quite an agreeable character. It wasn’t until he had grown to his early twenties (i.e. in his fifties chronologically) that I began to have some discourse with him, specifically around the time he began to lose interest in his wife because she was getting older and slowing down while he was growing younger and speeding up.

When they had met, his wife was the one who dragged him about to social gatherings and when the roles were reversed, it seemed as though Benjamin shirked his duties. Of course, it’s understandable when you begin to see that his mind is also regressing as his body does.

Yes, he maintains his experiences and memories, but it became obvious when he went to Harvard and suddenly found the studies difficult in his junior and senior years. That’s when the point was driven home: he was living his life in reverse. Reconciling his memories and experiences mentally with his chronological and physical age must have been tremendously difficult. Coupled with the reactions, especially from his family (grandfather, father, mother, wife, and son), and scandals only added another ton weight to his shoulders.

That’s what made the ending so bittersweet. On one hand, I was glad that Benjamin was out of his misery (and trust me, toward the end, it must have been misery), but it was also sad to see all those memories and experiences just fade away. Poof. Part of me is left wondering if that’s what it’s like to grow into the winter of one’s life.

This story is rather thought provoking, and even after you finish reading the last word, you’ll continue turning the possibilities over and over in your head. Now, I simply must go and see the movie (which I’ve heard is spectacular).

Rating: Required Reading (?)

Get The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Tales of the Jazz Age at Amazon

Comments on Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

  1. # Brie wrote on February 2, 2009 at 8:37 pm:

    Only 31 pages? Wow, a lot happens in such a short span. The story sounds good, though it is a lot different than the movie. Well, the overall concept is the same; a man is aging backward, but the actual story is different. Thanks for the review. :)

    Have you seen the movie yet?

  2. # Jace wrote on February 3, 2009 at 2:24 am:

    Great review, AK. :) The story sounds really sad … I’m glad it was a good read for you though. :)

  3. # Ann-Kat wrote on February 3, 2009 at 1:56 pm:

    @Brie: Well, in the book I read, it was only 31 pages, so it may vary based on source. But you’re certainly right; quite a bit does happen in those few pages. We see brief vignettes of Benjamin’s life in whirlwind fashion.

    As for the movie, I haven’t seen it yet. I actually want to get out and see it today. Based on what I’m hearing, there are mixed reviews, but one thing I can be absolutely certain of is that the only connection between the short story and the movie is the name and premise (a man aging backwards).

    I’m still looking forward to it, though.

    Have you seen it? Did you enjoy it?

    @Jace: I wouldn’t call it sad so much as bittersweet. There are a couple of highly humorous moments (when Ben decides to go back into the military when his son won’t take him to prep school and he gets mistaken for another soldier’s son and is summarily kicked out) and there are some tense moments. Overall, the reading was entertaining. The end was what I found sad…the last stages of his life when he was no longer able to interact on an adult level.

  4. # Brie wrote on February 3, 2009 at 2:07 pm:

    Yes, I’ve seen the movie. I thought that it was very good. I wasn’t blown away, but overall, I really enjoyed it.

  5. # Ann-Kat wrote on February 3, 2009 at 2:56 pm:

    Cool, thanks!

  6. # Jenners wrote on February 4, 2009 at 10:07 pm:

    Oh! I was so happy to see your review of this. I saw the movie but have not read the story (which I will now do, courtesy of your link). Let me tell you, the movie seems almost nothing like the short story except for the basic concept. I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on the movie once you see it!

    I really like how you wrote this! : )

  7. # Ann-Kat wrote on February 5, 2009 at 1:13 pm:

    Jenners, you’re absolutely right. From the synopses I’ve heard from friends, the movie is nothing at all like the short story. In fact, only the title and the premise are the same…not even Benjamin’s love is the same. (In the short story her name is Hildegarde.)

    Still haven’t seen it yet (life’s been busy), but I hope to see it soon, before it’s out of theatres.

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