Monday, January 3, 2011

Short Story Monday: "The Jelly-Bean" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jim Powell was a Jelly-bean.  Much as I desire to make him an appealing character, I feel it would be unscrupulous to deceive you on that point.  He was a bred-in-the bone, dyed-in-the wool, ninety-nine three-quarters per cent Jelly-bean and he grew lazily all during Jelly-bean season, which is every season, down in the land of the Jelly-beans well below the Mason-Dixon line.

So begins F. Scott Fitzgerald's 24 page story, "The Jelly-Bean".  I was immediately captivated by the language and tone, but also slightly confused.  Thankfully, Fitzgerald provided the answer to my question just two paragraphs later:
"Jelly-bean is the name throughout the undissolved Confederacy for one who spends his life conjugating the verb to idle in the first person singular - I am idling, I have idled, I will idle.
The first chapter introduces Jim Powell.  He never liked parties much, was mostly scared of girls, and, at twenty-one, has returned from the war (he served in a navy-yard in Brooklyn) to live above Tilly's Garage, where he occasionally works. He also happens to be a champion crap-shooter.

The second chapter is written mostly in dialogue. An old friend invites Jim to a party at the country club. On impulse he accepts, but feels woefully out of place.
So ten o'clock found the Jelly-bean with his legs crossed and his arms conservatively folded, trying to look casually at home and politely uninterested in the dancers.  At heart he was torn between overwhelming self-consciousness and an intense curiosity as to all that went on around him.
At the party, Jim is dazzled by the popular Nancy Lamar, also reputed to be a fine crap-shooter, but one who often gets into trouble after too much "good old corn". Remember, this is during prohibition.

An after hours crap shoot follows the dance. Jim watches as Nancy has an amazing winning streak, however her luck turns as the alcohol flows. He steps in to "save" her, and is rewarded.  As morning breaks, Fitzgerald writes poetically of Jim's change in attitude, his desire to better himself, and finally, a realization.
In this heat nothing mattered. All life was weather, a waiting through the hot where events had no significance for the cool that was soft and caressing like a woman's hand on a tired forehead.
This story originally appeared in The Metropolitan periodical, and was included in Fitzgerald's Tales of the Jazz Age in 1922. This is a wonderful story, and I look forward to reading more from the collection.  You can read "The Jelly-Bean" here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

13 comments:

  1. I'm still undecided about Fitzgerald. I've only read Benjamin Button (which I enjoyed) and Gatsby (which I didn't). I do like the way you describe this story.

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  2. I love Fitzgerald. Thanks for the link!

    "The stores were closing and the last shoppers were drifting homeward, as if borne on the dreamy revolution of a slow merry-go-round."

    "He saw the girls emerge one by one from the dressing-room, stretching and pluming themselves like bright birds, smiling over their powdered shoulders at the chaperones, casting a quick glance around to take in the room and, simultaneously, the room's reaction to their entrance--and then, again like birds, alighting and nestling in the sober arms of their waiting escorts."

    "Some ray had passed between the pair, a shaft of beauty from that sun that had warmed him a moment since. The Jelly-bean felt suddenly like a weed in a shadow."

    "Yet now it was a reverie made sensuous by the night and by the hot smell of damp powder puffs, tucked in the fronts of low dresses and distilling a thousand rich scents to float out through the open door. The music itself, blurred by a loud trombone, became hot and shadowy, a languorous overtone to the scraping of many shoes and slippers."

    Fitzgerald always has so many lovely passages.

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  3. John - The Great Gatsby is a novel I come back to over and over, yet in high school, I loved Tender is the Night even more. Hoping to reread it sometime this year. Benjamin Button is in the collection, so I'll be reading that soon, too.

    E.L. Fay - I loved all of those passages! This was just a gorgeous story... why have I never read Fitzgerald's short stories before now??

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  4. I really enjoyed Great Gatsby in high school. I would like to see what I think of it as a middle aged adult. This story sounds good to. Thanks for the link, I downloaded it to read.

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  5. Teddy Rose - The Great Gatsby didn't do much for me in high school, but when I reread it about 10 years ago I loved it. Have read it again since them, and really think it's more of a novel for adults than high schoolers. Hope you like the story... I sure did!

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  6. I have only ever read The Great Gatsby, but I did enjoy it. I will definitely look this one up.

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  7. Very interesting story..I'm still a bit confused on the Jelly-bean thing though!!

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  8. Vivienne - It looks like I'm becoming a fan of FSF. Hope you like the story.

    Staci - It took me some time to figure out the jelly-bean thing. Guess we live too far north!

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  9. I really enjoy Fitzgerald's short stories--but I haven't read this one! I'll have to pull out the collection at home and see if I can find it (or guess I could just read the link you provided).

    What's next? The Diamond as Big as the Ritz? :)

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  10. grabbing comments...blogger not cooperating this morning. ;)

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  11. Trish - The Diamond as Big as the Ritz is in the collection... what a great title! Fitzgerald just keeps getting better and better.

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  12. This short story sounds really interesting! I'm only just getting into short stories, so maybe I'll give this one a shot. Thanks for the review and the link!

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  13. Erin - Short stories offer a nice change of pace, but I never liked them much before the last year or so. Hope you enjoy this one. I'd also recommend "Chicxulub" by T.C. Boyle - my favorite, and the most powerful, short story ever. You can read it here:
    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/03/01/040301fi_fiction

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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