Despite showing his subject in all of his complexities, Greenfeld is a moralist who clearly disapproves of the decadent life-style of Fitzgerald. Moreover, throughout the book, he depicts Fitzgerald as an utter failure: as a football player, as a socialite, as a war hero—after receiving basic training he was not sent to Europe—and as a husband and father. Yet, despite this didactic tone—one clearly directed at teenage readers—Greenfeld manages to moralize without condescension, even when describing some of the bizarre and tasteless pranks for which the Fitzgeralds became famous. While it is generally the custom to find in the idiosyncrasies of the rich and famous only evidence of their charmed uniqueness, Greenfeld, implicitly rejecting this basically amoral stance, shakes his head sympathetically but in disapproval.
As befits a literary biography, the works of Fitzgerald are given a more than cursory examination. It might even be said that Greenfeld’s treatment of the subject stands up well as an introduction to Fitzgerald the author. Simple expositions, simple explanations, and simple elucidations—all these features characterize this exemplary work. The literary judgments rendered by Greenfeld, however, are the hand-me-downs of prevailing critical opinion. For example, he says of Fitzgerald’s first novel—widely praised at the time of its publication in 1920 and even given the seal of approval by H. L. Mencken—that despite its daring,...
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Greenfeld’s biography was essentially the first attempt to address a younger audience on the subject of Fitzgerald, and in that sense it must be reckoned a success. Reviewers from the journals Booklist, Center for Children’s Books: Bulletin, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly all gave the book very high marks.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald, Greenfeld singles out The Great Gatsby as the writer’s most important work. In the 1960’s, there emerged a revisionist strain of literary history and criticism, in the context of which Tender Is the Night seemed poised to overtake The Great Gatsby as Fitzgerald’s magnum opus. In a period when the confessional tone or style was so highly valued, that novel seemed—in spite of, or perhaps even because of, its structural flaws—a more vital and engaging work of art. Yet by 1974—the year of Greenfeld’s biography—the pendulum had most decidedly swung the other way, back toward the virtually unchallenged view that, with the possible exception of The Last Tycoon (1941)—whose only major flaw is that it was never completed—Fitzgerald’s only flirtation with perfection was with The Great Gatsby. This shift in literary criticism may explain Greenfeld’s complimentary words on Tender Is the Night but also his placement of that novel one or two rungs below The Great Gatsby.