Sunday, September 21, 2014

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 244: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Ice Palace (#244)

F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Ice Palace" (1920) from F. Scott Fitzgerald: Novels & Stories 1920–1922:

I have a secret love of Fitzgerald. No, not secret: late. I'm not generally a believer in the idea that literature classes ruin people for books (or vice versa); but I do remember reading and hating Great Gatsby in high school and only later on realizing what sort of game he's playing.

Which is why I'm pretty unreserved in my recommendation for people to read some Fitzgerald, such as the earlier LoA stories: "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" (rom-com with a bitter end), "The Cut-Glass Bowl" (a beautiful transition from laughing at a character to feeling her pain), and (to a lesser extent), "Porcelain and Pink" (light comedy in a bathtub). I'd also recommend all those as a primer before getting to today's story, "The Ice Palace."

The LoA headnote makes a lot of Fitzgerald's biographical connections to this story: in the story, we follow a Southern belle with a certain not-so-Southern liveliness (so says the story) as she gets engaged to a Minnesotan, culminating in her disastrous trip to the snowy North. As a New Yorker and a Chicagoan transplanted to Texas, I feel her pain. I also feel her emotional tumult, feeling that the South is too sleepy and dead, but also knowing that it's dear to her.

(Or rather: as a friend of liberal Texans, I've heard much of their plight, both at home and in the rest of the country, where "Texan" is a byword for conservative.)

In his own life, Fitzgerald was a Northern boy (hey, Minnesota) who fell in love with a Southern belle named Zelda; and once he proved he could provide for them by writing (so the headnote says), they got married. Like the Minnesotan in the story, Fitzgerald got taken to a cemetery by a girl who had some poetic ideas about the dead.

But curiously, in the story--spoiler alert for a story that's almost a century old--the North-South alliance comes to tragic end, whereas the Scott and Zelda story... well, had a different tragic end. Except maybe "tragic" isn't the right word for this story: sure, the girl who wanted to move out of her small sleepy town ends up back there, doing the same things at the end that she was doing at the beginning, but at least she didn't marry the guy, who ends up being a little bit in the mold of Tom Buchanan from Gatsby: a little bit of a giant jerk. I mean, he takes this girl to the Ice Palace (fine) and to the ice maze (still fine) and then he runs, expecting her to keep up (oy vey). Seriously, it's such a drip move to make that I almost can't feel bad when the engagement falls apart.

Of course, that's just the straw that breaks the ice camel's back. Before we ever get to that point, we've seen some of the cultural difference between North and South--the unbridgeable gulf that Sally Carrol "couldn't ever make [him] understand." Or, as she puts it about growing up in the beautiful, glorious, fantastic shadow of the Civil War, "people have these dreams they fasten onto things, and I've always grown up with that dream. It was so easy because it was all dead and there weren't any disillusions comin' to me."

Easy dreams, man--they'll get you every time.

Bonus points for the literature professor who speaks of the Minnesotans growing "Ibsenesque."

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