Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fiction Features Crashes and Collisions

Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the wrong words seem to rhyme
Out of the doubt that fills my mind
I somehow find you and I collide
("Collide" by Kevin Griffin and Howie Day)

Photo by Al Griffin

Another of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories put me in mind of collisions and convergences--those stories that feature one person stumbling across another in a place with a pulse, a history, and energy to change both. The movie Crash does thatPeople stumble across one another, converging in Los Angeles places both electric and fragile. They crash, often leaving humanity crouching in fear.

Fitzgerald lived during a time of convergences and collisions that began in the last half of the nineteenth century when Russia, the Balkans, Austria, France, England, and Germany jostled for influence and power, each trying to defend its domestic and foreign ground while expanding its colonial ground and imperial might. Simultaneously, national and socialist forces tried to stake claims on the politics, economics, and hearts of people. World War I was a result. Fitzgerald’s story takes place after those WWI soldiers have come home, relieved to be alive, stained by the brutal truths witnessed, and surprised to find themselves unsure of their ground, of where they belong.

Fitzgerald’s "May Day" brings together Gordon Sterrett, a lost and penniless veteran once voted Best Dressed at Yale; Rose and Kelly, soldiers just looking for a place to belong and failing that, a drink; and Gordon’s old girlfriend, Edith, a debutante ready to marry and sister to Harry, a socialist newspaperman. These people collide through a Gamma Psi fraternity ball at the grand Biltmore Hotel near the newspaper office where Harry works into the early morning hours.

Sterrett has been reduced to begging money from men who were once his equals, and they despise him. His state is unseemly, unmanly, and unfamiliar. Only his paramour, Jewel, has any pity for him, and he’s ashamed to be with her.

Rose and Kelly, cut loose from service, simply don’t know what to do with themselves. They drift, hungry and thirsty, without employment or direction, flirting with a group of anti-Bolsheviks bent upon beating the socialist out of anyone.

Edith has the same distaste for penury as Gordon’s former classmates. She doesn’t like mess, and she doesn’t like being touched if the touch hasn’t been solicited or worse, if it endangers her perfectly powdered skin and perfectly coiffed hair. She finds the mess that is Gordon even more offensive than being touched. Like others of her class and breeding, she turns her back on his want and raw need, preferring to dwell in an illusion of gentility and plenty. She still hopes her brother Harry will come to his senses about his true place in society.

Two die as a consequence of Fitzgerald’s convergence, and both as a result of falling from a great height, one figurative and the other literal. The fatal collision of classes on another May Day when workers rose to stake their claims upon the lands and when anti-socialist fears transformed men into mobs is re-told well by Fitzgerald.

Reading Challenge:

Read “May Day” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Pay close attention to the story threads stitched together deftly.

Writing Challenge:

Ask yourself what if three very different people bumped into each other. What might be the result?