In Paul Krugman’s column today, he quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella The Rich Boy—twice! That’s one of the reasons that I like Krugman: he’s not only an astute political observer, he’s also an interesting and knowledgeable guy. Anyone who quotes Fitzgerald (other than about second acts in American lives) is at least somewhat interesting.
One great thing about Fitzgerald is that he grew up around rich people without being rich. (Actually, today I would say Fitzgerald’s family was rich given that they were well in the top 20% of earners, but not part of the beau monde.) As a result, he was able to see the rich clearly. And the picture he rendered was not pretty. The Buchanans in The Great Gatsby sum up his views pretty well.
Krugman quotes what I consider some uninspiring lines from the novella, although they are some of the most harsh. I am most taken by the first paragraph of The Rich Boy:
Someone famous and smart said something about how all fiction is a meditation on the writing process. That is perhaps more true of Fitzgerald with his intense first person narration. But in this paragraph, he sets the rules for his story; he is planning to walk a tightrope: an honest depiction of a young man, a symbol of a type but not himself a type. As a result, he provides better advice more beautifully packaged than all the creative writing courses in the world.
If I weren’t determined to push all my nonfiction aside and read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum this weekend, I would read The Great Gatsby. But you could. Or The Rich Boy if you only have an hour.