I have now read all of Fitzgerald’s major published works. After finishing The Love of The Last Tycoon, the incomplete manuscript on his desk when he died, I ask immediately wonder how this novel differs from his other works. Did he know he had this one last chance to voice his ideas? Did he compile the breadth of his lifelong learning into his final literary hero? Unfortunately, we can only speculate on these questions. But I find comfort in the idea that we would not have these questions had not Fitzgerald left The Love of The Last Tycoon as his final stamp on American literary art.
Fitzgerald’s protagonist, Monroe Stahr, stands apart from the other heroes of his novels. Amory Blaine endures a sort of intellectual maturation which coincides with his struggle with humility. Anthony Patch, born to privilege, would rather spend his time thinking about his future instead of pursuing it. Jay Gatsby put a human face on the iconic rich and influential socialite image of the 1920s. And the autobiographical sketch of Dick Diver portrays a man burdened with a sick love. Only with Monroe Stahr do we meet a hero who seems to have it all, a self-sustaining character who does not need a feminine Virgil to guide him, a successful businessman who nobly soars above a town of flared egos and disingenuous fakes. We might think of Gatsby, but Stahr differs by bearing his full persona to everyone, even by mixing an arrogant sense of savior ethics into his professional career as a producer. He also seems to embrace any self-inflicted personal detriment and defends his methods like a Hollywood mystic who confidently awaits others to naturally arrive at his conclusions.
I wanted to appreciate Cecelia’s first-person narrative more than I did. Nick Carraway remains the heavy-weight champion in this arena. But I did appreciate her overall tone. For a young woman, writing about something which happened in her childhood, I liked the contrast of her tired and seemingly cynical tone with her proximity to the glamorous bustle of Hollywood life. Fitzgerald positions her as a Hollywood insider but with no personal credits in movies – the privileged fly on a wall in a town which hasn’t wrapped her in its spider silk. Fitzgerald presents her with a keen sense of simile which cleverly meets the demands of the situation while cultivating her consistently disenchanted tone. At least half of the novel, however, happens away from her presence. So how much do we believe about a story which takes place in Hollywood about the most successful and revered contemporary Hollywood producer from someone who was absent from much of the story? I don’t believe Fitzgerald made a mistake. I think he wants us to ask this question – a scripted silver screen drama based on real life. And he developed her tone to draw us in just enough to consider how these people relate to us.
Unfortunately, Fitzgerald did not have the chance to finish this book, and though I commend Matthew Bruccoli for producing a publication enhanced with editing notes and outlines from Fitzgerald himself, readers can only contemplate open-ended themes doomed to resolution purgatory. Nonetheless, I think Fitzgerald did reach an important stage of the story as Stahr vulnerably enters the center of the hero’s labyrinth and faces himself. And, again, as opposed to Fitzgerald’s other heroes, I don’t think Stahr felt familiar with himself when coupled with some of the people who enter his life. His brief love affair with Kathleen tests his conviction for his Hollywood work by presenting an escape into a more traditional American life. The last episodes with the visiting communist force him to acknowledge his personal ethics particularly regarding relations with writers. Stahr strikes me with his honesty as he faces himself. While many heroes wage bloody battle against the beast representing their other half, I imagine Stahr finding the beast, introducing himself with one hand in his pocket, his head tipped to one side, slightly squinting as he assesses his adversary. The beast says nothing to disarm him. Stahr listens. Understands. Responds inquisitively. Perhaps he defends his choices and his noble intentions. Perhaps he even describes what he sacrifices for a growing town which transforms the imagination into a reality of sensory overload.
But we don’t see Stahr come out of the labyrinth. And we don’t know who “survives” the interaction in the center. But we do meet a very different Fitzgerald vision – a confident man, a brilliant and intuitive Hollywood producer, a loveable persona and the last of the traditional Americana icons.