Book Review: F Scott Fitzgerald. The last Tycoon

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The Last Tycoon by F Scott Fitzgerald was the last book he wrote and remains largely unwritten, due to his untimely death at 44.

Plot 

His unfinished novel focuses on the Hollywood studio manager Monroe Stahr. The story is told by Cecelia Brady the daughter of his business partner and influential Hollywood producer Pat Brady.

The story begins with Celia flying back home to Los Angles with failed producer Mr. Schwartz, and Monroe. During the journey we learn Celia has had a crush on Monroe for years (but he is not interested in her). Because of problems on the flight the plane has to stop off at Nashville. It is here Mr Schwartz tells Celia he will not be carrying on to Los Angeles and gives her a letter to pass it on to Monroe. Cecilia later learns the letter was a warning to Monroe of Brady (who Monroe has decided to keep working with despite a professional conflict and Schwarts previous warnings). Celia also finds out that after she left Schwartz in Nashville he killed himself.

The next day Celia visits her father at his office and an earthquake occurs. After the quake Celia is outside with her father and Monroe where a water pipe has busted and has flooded the set. It is then Monroe beholds two women desperately clinging to the head of a statue – finding one of them to be the spitting image of his late wife. This turns out to be the young Irish-born Kathleen Moore.

Monroe and Kathleen begin a tragic love affair. Tragic as she is already engaged to another man and because Monroe is slowly dying from heart disease and his doctors believe he only has a few months left to live-he is only 35.

Despite being in love with each other Kathleen marries her finance, which devastates Monroe, but they continue to have an elicit affair. However after Monroe gets into a drunken fight with a communist Cecelia takes care of Monroe and they too begin to date.

However Brady-Celia’s father-has become more and more unhappy with Monroe as a business partner and wants to get rid of him, he also does not approve of his daughter dating Monroe. Brady knows of  Monroe’s continued affair with Kathleen and tries to blackmail Monroe into leaving the company. But Monroe dumps Celia and encourages Kathleen to seek a divorce so they can be together.

As he fails to achieve his goal via blackmail, Brady hires a professional killer. Monroe survives, and, in retaliation, also appoints a man to have Brady killed. Unlike Brady, Monroe’s conscience starts to trouble him. Instead he tells Kathleen he will leave the industry to be with her but he just has one final meeting to attend. However before he has time to call off the execution, the plane he was travelling in to the meeting crashes on its way back to New York City. The contract killer finishes his job and leaves Cecelia both without a father and a lover – the two men who meant the world to her.

Although not mentioned in the book I think its important to point out the story starts with the death of Mr Schwartz and ends with the death of Monroe. This is poyniant as  Mr. Schwartz advice to Monroe at the beginning of the book to let Brady go was right on the money-as he was ultimately was bad news for Monroe and the story in this sense can be seen to be the revealing of this original warning.

My Personal Opinion

In reading The Last Tycoon we can see Scott returning to similar themes and ideas he has used in his previous novels.

For instance in each of his books there is a high level of glamour. In The Last Tycoon we have the glamour of Hollywood, its wealth, beauty and freedom. In Tender is the night we have Dick and Nicole Diver a glamorous couple living in a villa and traveling the world. In the Great Gatsby we have Gatsby’s lavish parties, hotel rooms and swimming pools. Not only does this glamourous atmosphere make the storyline much more fascinating but Scott uses it in his first books (written in the roaring 20s) to show American culture of the time and then as escapism in the 1930s, when the vast majority of his readers were living through the great depression.

But in each of these stories there is also sexual betrayal, that often leads to the male parties demise or death. In The last Tycoon Monroe has an affair with the married Kathleen, while he is also dating Celia and by the end of the novel has died in a plane crash. In Tender is the Night Dick does not love his wife and has an affair with Rosemary. However while Rosemary goes on to have a great acting career he looses his job through drinking and his once dependent wife leaves him for a man who really cares for her. In the Beautiful and the Damned Dorothy has an affair with the married Anthony which leads to his mental breakdown. In the Great Gatsby, Gatsby has an affair with the married Daisy, which leads to his ultimate death brought about by revenge and mistaken identity, while Daisy gets away with a hit and run and remains married.

Like setting his books in glamorous locations, writing about love, sex and marriage is also a device that keeps books interesting. But again it was also a reflection of Scott’s own life. Scott was married to the beautiful but troubled Zelda who. They had a marriage fuelled with alcohol and parties and where the IT couple of the 20s, with Zelda seen as the quintessential flapper. However there marriage was also rocky. For instance after having an affair with a tennis pro Zelda asked for a divorce at which point Scott locked her in the house until she came to her senses. There life after this event was terrible Zelda tried to commit suicide and had to be locked away in a hospital while Scott became a drunk and died young.

I find it interesting in his work how it is always the man who suffers more from the affairs then the wife. Perhaps this is because Scott was worried of what would happen to him if Zelda left. Believing she would be fine and he would only fall into ruin.

However the Last Tycoon is a little different from Scott’s other works as it gives over a lot more detail to working life. In the novel Monroe is obsessed by his job and it is more important to him then any person. He is seen as the boy wonder of industry, an idol, its god, he can do no wrong. In the novel Scott shows us all the different aspects of Monroe’s  job, for instance on page 36 ‘the first dictagraph blew in through the warm morning. While he shaved and had coffee, he talked and listened…An actor was sick or thought so; the Governor of California was brining a party out; a supervisor had beaten up his wife for the prints and must be reduced to a writer…there was a early snow on location in Canada, with the company already there-Stahr raced over the possibilities of salvages , reviewing the story of the picture. Nothing.’ This obsession with his job means Monroe never stops working, to the point of it leading to his untimely death.

There is also a fair amount of comedy in the last tycoon, with the behind the scenes gossip being hilariously. Such as the Hollywood hunk who is  unable to get it up, the ex Russian prince who has fled his country to be actor but refuses to play a Russian prince – the only role he seems suited for and Celia catching her father cheating when his naked secretary falls out his his wardrobe through heat exhaustion.

However I was board by the amount of detail given over to Monroe’s job and would much rather have had the focus been on Monroes personal relationships with Celia, Kathleen, Brady and even Schwartz. Here Scott was at his best giving some truly beautiful description on human emotions. For instance on page 89 when Monroe sees Kathleen at a party ‘Immediately things changed. As he walked towards her the people shrank back against the walls till they were only murals; the white table lengthened and became an altar where the priestess sat alone. Vitality swelled up in him, and he could of stood a long time across the table from her looking and smiling…Stahr continued to be dazzled as they danced out along the floor – to the last edge, where they stepped through a mirror into another dance with new dancers whose faces were familiar but nothing more.’   But perhaps Scott would have developed and expanded this side of his novel on if he had time to finish it.

As a modern reader I also sometimes struggle with the constant bombardment of large events that happen throughout the plot. Celia is the last person to see Schwartz alive, Monroe refuses her affections, she catches her father having an affair, helps Monroe after a fight, becomes his short term girlfriend, looses him in a plane crash, learns of his relationship with Kathleen from Kathleen at his funeral, her father is killed by Monroe’s hit man and she ends up in sanatorium where we are unsure if she will live or die.

My problem is I can believe one or two of these events happening to a person but to have so many happen over such a short period of time (the story is told over a 5 year period) can at times feel ridiculously-like watching a soap opera-real life is made up of smaller more indefinable details and is much more boring.

However I also know why Scott constantly uses this device throughout his work. As well as being entertaining and keeping the readers wondering what will happen next. He is also drawing on his own life to show the reality of America during this time. For instances he lifted extracts from his wife Zelda’s diary for This side of Paradise, he becomes a alcoholic like Dick Driver, he dies young like Monroe Stahr, his wife is in a sanitarium like Nicole Driver, he was a wealthy and successful man like all of his male leads, he is also married to a beautiful woman with who he has a difficult relationship (like all of his male leads). So although at times Scott’s work may feel unbelievable a lot of the events did actually happen and as is said ‘fact is often stranger then fiction’.

By the end of last Tycoon the overall feeling you are left with is disappointment that Scott never got the chance to finish this novel as it really could of been something great.

 

 

 

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