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Dear Scott/Dear Max

The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence Edited by John Kuehl and Jackson R. Bryer, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 282 pp.

By Whit Stillman

ALTHOUGH I'VE long been aware that some adults have the habit of giving themselves Christmas presents, it seems strange that a publishing house should do the same. But why else would Scribner's have published as gratuitous a volume as Dear Scott-Dear Max if not to put under the Christmas tree at the home office? The majority of the material has already appeared in Fitzgerald's and Perkins's collected letters, so that the only purpose of this book is to bring the correspondence between Scribner's famous author and Scribner's famous editor together under the same Scribner's cover. This passionate quest for Fitzgeraldiana which has become so far flung that it in this case verges on Scribneriana might baffle the sensible reader but it should be only good news for the Fitzgerald fanatic. The fanatic should overlook the fact that many of these letters are old stuff, that much of the collection is swamped with technicality and detail, and that the book has little plot and no conclusion. For the Fitzgerald fanatic it should simply be a happy day that the correspondence between the two men has been brought together in one book, conveniently located for inspirational readings.

While the outline of the Fitzgerald saga has been on the billboards for decades there is a whole new substrata of events and personalities running through these letters. In February of 1922 Fitzgerald wrote Perkins about Tom Boyd who "runs the book page in The St. Paul Daily News, which he has made the best book page west of the Hudson. Altogether, according to my scrapbook my name has appeared on it over forty times since I came to St. Paul. (These two sentences look funny together! Ha-Ha!" Then three years later Perkins writes Fitzgerald "Tom's book has only sold about 3,000 but I really did not think it could do much more in view of its nature." And then a few months later. "I think he is utterly honest, and headstrong, deep feeling which is the great thing." Fitzgerald's reply is a lengthy History of the Simple Inarticulate Farmer and his Hired Man Christy in which he debunks the artistic pretentions of Boyd and others. "It amazes me, Max, to see you with your discernment and your fine intelligence fall for that whole complicated fake."

FULL OF Fitzgerald's frantic and self-mocking pleas for money, many of the letters are reminiscent of the story "Financing Finnegan" about an eccentric author's agent and editor who conspire to keep him financial alive as he plans his escapades. The story was written in fun, partly to thank Perkins and his agent Harold Ober, but behind it there is the dead seriousness of the debt that he owed then both. In his very first letter, telling Perkins about the novel which ultimately became This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald seems to be running a race. First, It's a race for the basics of living, to earn enough money so that he can marry, and later whether he is racing to pay bills or write well he never seems to catch up with himself. Almost every letter has some kind of promise of going on the wagon, of settling down, of starting a literary project that will make him financially secure. He planned for a two volume medieval novel called Philippe., count of Darkness that Redbook was interested in serializing. Fitzgerald told Perkins to wait to publish his play The Vegetable until he had written two other plays to go with it.

Many critics talk about Fitzgerald's need to sprinkle glitter over experience, to paint life with a little gold brush. They accuse him of shallowness and superficiality, but his version of reality is so consistent and alluring that it seems more like a grand delusion.

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