The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Scribner’s (1941), approx. 163 pp.
Cool and handsome Monroe Stahr, still in his mid-thirties, has been running a major studio for a decade. Although lacking much formal education, he knows more about making movies than anyone else in Hollywood. Among the many women who find him attractive is Cecilia Brady, the teenage daughter of his business partner. Stahr, however, is too wrapped up in work to take more than a fleeting interested in women. Then he encounters Kathleen Moore, someone who eerily reminds him of his dead wife. Almost against his will, he feels a need to pursue her.
The real question here is not so much whether this is a novel worth reading as it is whether it’s a novel at all. Fitzgerald finished only about half his first draft before he died in 1940. Without other information, it’s difficult to tell where he was going to take the story or how he was going to develop the characters. Even what he wrote has serious problems. The narrative scheme -- half in the first person by an unconvincing Cecilia, the rest essentially in the third person -- generates pointless confusion. The writing is sometimes graceful but sometimes didactic or overly clever. The love story barely avoids straight-out goo. Cultural references are out of sync: the Long Beach earthquake is moved to 1935, songs play prior to their publication, airliners fly before they were put into service. Readers expecting “far and away the best novel we have had about Hollywood,” as Edmund Wilson says in the foreword, will be disappointed. The critical attention the book has received, including a revamped 1995 edition, rests on the fame of its author. Devotees of Fitzgerald will want to read it. Others can safely stay clear.