Book People | December 2010 | Steve Alburty

The light at the end of the typewriter

Few writers understood better the limit of their talents than F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In the marvelous new HBO documentary, "Public Speaking," the writer and professional "famous-person" Fran Lebowitz is interviewed by the Nobel-laureate, Toni Morrison. When the subject of the conversation comes to Fitzgerald's work, Lebowitz mentions that his talent pretty much ended with "The Great Gatsby."

Morrison slips in a mention of "The Crack-Up."  Lebowitz ignores the interruption and is already onto her next bon-mot.

Morrison was right to mention "The Crack-Up," as it is perhaps the most honest cri de coeur any writer has ever issued about the panic he felt when his talent had failed him.

Fitzgerald was in Hollywood, struggling with alcoholism and his inability to understand how one wrote a screenplay. He was fairly desperate, because his wife was in a mental institution in Asheville, NC,  and he had a child to support.  The light at the end of the dock was real, and haunting, to him.

How many writers have simply stopped writing? (Eventually, all of them.) We never hear why they stop creatively.

Fitzgerald tried to to continue. "The Last Tycoon" is considered his final work, although it was never finished.

"The Crack-Up" is actually his last great work. He explains, in the most searing self-indictment possible, how he failed - as a writer and a human being.  

He already knew it was time to stop typing.

And yet he beat on ....