When I first saw this book in Dymocks I thought 'oh, the movie is based on a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald!' and I bought it (not that I have seen the film). However, I discovered that this book was actually a collection of short stories by the same author, and while I enjoyed the first two stories, I pretty quickly became lost after that and found most of them quite boring and dry. However, as I always try to do, I read through to the end of the book, and now I can move onto something that is (I hope) a little more interesting.
Most of the stories in this book are about life in American cities in the early 1920s. The war was over and America had emerged on top and prosperity was trickling down to the masses. The people in these stories aren't generally the wealthy elite, but they aren't poor either: they are just average middle-class people telling average-middle class stories (with the exception of Benjamin Button, of course).
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the exception in this book, which I find odd, because some have described this as a fairy tale, though a rather depressing one at that. I consider it to be allegory and my impression was that it was about discrimination. The story is about a man who is born at age 70 and grows ever younger until he reaches the time of his birth. He begins with the intelligence and wisdom of a 70 year old, and then gradually loses it until he is an unthinking baby. What strikes me most about this story though is the discrimination that Button experiences in his life. He is denied entry into Yale because he appears too old (and nobody believes him that he is actually much younger than he appears), his children ridicule him, believing that he is playing some sort of game, and when he attempts to take up the position of an officer in the army in World War I, he is once again disbelieved.
The discrimination that Button faces is not of his own doing, in fact it is completely out of his control. While the book was written too early to relate to mental illness (which is something that began to appear and be taken notice of in the 90s) there are lots of forms of discrimination against people based on unseen things. Working in the field of personal injury we see it all the time, and in many cases, it is us who are being discriminating. Somebody who suffers a demonstrable injury (such as a broken arm) is much more likely to be believed than somebody who does not (such as low back pain, or altered gait). People do not believe that Button is actually disadvantaged because of his backwards aging, so he pretty much goes through life being almost excluded. He does not age as other people age, and as such is unable to form long term relationships. People just end up getting weirded out.
The second story is called Head and Shoulders and it about role reversal. The two main characters, a male and a female, are complete opposites, and they end up marrying. The male is a child prodigy who is invited into Ivy League Universities and has the dream of becoming a great philosopher. The female is pretty much a stripper (or a chorus girl) who brings the male into her web. As their life progresses, the roles being to reverse. They start of with poor jobs and one tries to work his way up while the other tries to get out. However one day she suggests that he go to the gym, and he suggests that she read a book.
He goes to the gym and performs acrobatics, and is immediately seen by a circus scout who invites him to perform on the big stage, which he reluctantly accepts. She reads Pepy's Diaries and becomes so enthralled that she writes her own version and gets it published. Suddenly the roles are reversed. He earns good money from his circus act, but he is no longer on his way to become a famous philosopher. She gets her book published and it is an instant success. The book ends with his idol, another famous philosopher, arriving at their house to meet her, and thus, we discover that the roles have now completely reversed. She is an uneducated, but very popular, author and him, a highly educated acrobat.