My dad once told me that F. Scott Fitzgerald would write down all of the seemingly random sentences that came to him throughout the course of a day and then try to work them into what he was writing. Whether this is true, I do not really wish to know. In my head, at least, it’s why Fitzgerald’s books have such a peculiar ability to haunt. They have sentences that can spring free of context and just follow you around for a day, a week, a month.
Don’t wake the Tarkington ghosts. This line has been in my head for years. My copy of The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald’s final novel, is dated November 2nd, 1996, in the inside cover. So I guess I’ve been worrying on and off about the Tarkington ghosts for the best part of 25 years. I have never woken them! Fitzgerald would be proud. But still, those ghosts are always with me, always slumbering.
The Last Tycoon is my favourite Fitzgerald. It’s set in Hollywood and narrated by Cecilia, a girl who has “never been in pictures” but grew up in the business. Her father is a studio bigwig. Valentino came to her fifth birthday. So: “Even before the age of reason I was in a position to watch the wheels go round.” Cecilia is the Carraway of this book, then, but with slight alterations. Still, Cecilia is largely there to watch in the book’s first parts, and the person she watches the most in Monroe Stahr.