Commentary by Karen Bernardo
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “Crazy Sunday” reflects a difficult era in the author’s life—the years he spent in Hollywood writing screenplays. Fitzgerald’s fictional persona in “Crazy,” however, is unlike his real self because Joel Coles is a young, novice screenwriter, and by his Hollywood years Fitzgerald had already passed his period of literary greatness and was widely considered to be in decline. Both Fitzgerald and Joel share a crippling vice, however—alcohol—as well as a tendency to romanticize unstable women.
The unstable woman in this story is Stella, the wife of a well-known director, Miles Calman. Although Joel sees Calman at the studio during the week, most of their social interactions occur on Sunday (hence the story’s title). Calman, we learn, has cheated on his wife, and may still be doing so as the story opens; Stella, on the other hand, insists that up until now she has remained faithful to Miles—not that he deserves it—but she still seems to need another man around to balance out the equation. Calman, for his part, also seeks out Joel as a confidante, and confesses that he is tortured by the thought of Stella cheating on him out of revenge for his unfaithfulness to her.
Joel sympathizes with Miles, and there is no question that Joel is attracted to Stella, but his attraction to her mirrors his attraction to the life of Hollywood: “Under the high ceilings [of the Calmans’ house] the situation seemed more dignified and tragic. It was an eerie bright night with the dark very clear outside of all the windows and Stella all rose-gold raging and crying around the room. Joel did not quite believe in picture actresses’ grief. They have other preoccupations -- they are beautiful rose-gold figures blown full of life by writers and directors, and after hours they sit around and talk in whispers and giggled innuendoes, and the ends of many adventures flow through them.”
Joel doesn’t consciously intend to have anything to do with the mess of the Calmans’ life, and he starts off trying to be as diplomatically neutral as he can. But in the wee hours of a Sunday morning when Miles is away, Joel gets drunk and makes love to Stella. He wakes up with a sense of a new beginning, and, ominously, starts off by pouring himself a drink. At the same time Stella answers the phone and learns Miles has been killed in a plane crash. She insists it must all be a mistake, but then suddenly begs Joel to stay with her, to love her. “[Joel] stared at her, at first incredulously, and then with shocked understanding. In her dark groping Stella was trying to keep Miles alive by sustaining a situation in which he had figured—as if Miles’ mind could not die so long as the possibilities that had worried him still existed.” As she told Joel in the beginning, she really does love Miles after all.
In this story, Fitzgerald’s characters talk and talk and talk, without ever really resolving their issues. They are completely out of touch with themselves; they have become the story screenwriters write, directors direct, and actors portray. But there is much more to life than a facile motive, a dramatic flourish, or a happy ending. “Crazy Sunday” asks its readers put aside their masks and be themselves—something Fitzgerald’s characters cannot do.
“Crazy Sunday” can be found in the collection The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection.
It is available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon here.
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