There was once a priest with cold, watery eyes, who, in the still of the night, wept cold tears. He wept because the afternoons were warm and long, and he was unable to attain a complete mystical union with our Lord.
It's been said that the Character of Rudolph Miller from Absolution was an early study of the character who eventually becomes James Gatz/Gatsby, and because of this connection the short story Absolution is one that is read. And although this connection is interesting enough, there is more to this short story.
Absolution is the story of Rudolph Miller, an eleven year old boy who is tortured with the guilt of lying in confession. It is a very straight forward story line. Boy doesn't want his confession heard by the line of boys waiting for their own turns, He is unable to make a full confession and in the end inadvertently lies to the priest. Now he is racked with guilt and is in a bit of a crisis for his soul.
I was not raised Catholic and have never been a Catholic, so some of the nuances of the confession and the rules around the Catholic communion are unfamiliar to me. I do get, from the story, the agony of a young boy trying to follow the rules and honor those rules as he has been taught. To me the story gets interesting when the old priest enters the picture and we get to the familiar quote "When a lot of people get together in the best places things go glimmering". I was not sure where the priest was going with this, then he continues. He continues in this sort of rambling manner, where for the moment the church and the rituals have vanished, for at least a moment. He has a glimmer of a thought, something he wants to express. He asks Rudolph if he has ever been to an amusement park? He tells Rudolph that he should go and that "everything will twinkle". He should go at night, and sit in the distance, and look at the Ferris wheel, but don't get to close "because if you do you'll only feel the heat and the sweat of life."
Isn't it the truth, that from a distance everything twinkles. From a distance we don't have to be forced to face the realness. And for Rudolph the priest has watered his fantasy life and confirmed his inner convictions. It is the moment in his life that he is allowed to be who he wants to be. I love the quote that follows "There was something ineffably gorgeous somewhere that had nothing to do with God."
In the end the priest has a heart attack and dies. And as his body lies there, Fitzgerald takes us outside the priests window and we see the heat and sweat of life...
"Outside the window the blue sirocco trembled over the wheat, and the girls with yellow hair walked sensuously along the roads that bounded the fields, calling innocents, exciting things to the young men who were working in the lines between the grains."
This was not my first read of Absolution. It was also complied in "The Short Stories of F Scott Fitzgerald", by Bruccoli. It was in the initial collection of Fitzgerald short stories I read years ago. And back then it was not a favorite story of mine, meaning I did not honor it with a little asterisk, my notation of favorites at the time. But tonight, after reading it a second time in one month, I am realizing that this particular story has many lessons for me. I have a long history of wrestling with how religion and I fit, and initially I was put off by the Catholic presence in the story, but I wonder if there is a bit more for me to hang on to here. I wonder if in the end if this story will be a more personal story for me. I don't know, not yet at least.
So you may be getting the feeling that this is a more serious of Fitzgerald's work, and I would agree with that assessment. It is not a frivolous piece. But I had a couple of aside moments while reading that I wanted to share. These are almost like the notes I would write in the margins of the book, random thoughts. Thoughts that may be great insight, or thoughts that are just fleeting and wrong. I don't know, but we all have them while reading. Here are a couple of mine.
When Fitzgerald was describing the father, Carl Miller, he said..."His two bonds in his colorful life were his faith in the Roman Catholic Church and his mystical worship of the builder James J Hill." Was Fitzgerald writing about himself here? Is he thinking this could have been him if he continued with his youthful ideals of the time he was growing up on Summit Ave in the shadow of the James J Hill house and the immersion in the church? Where was FSF at in his personal religious journey when he wrote Absolution?
Then on a completely different tangent, and one far less serious. I was curious with a term "23 skidoo".
"She got our baseball that we knocked in her window, and she wouldn't give it back, so we yelled 'Twenty-three, skidoo,' at her all afternoon.This line occurs during Rudolph's confession. Usually, I just move past this, knowing it is a term or reference from the era, but tonight I took to the internet to see exactly what it meant. Basically it means to scram or to "get lost". It has also been suggested that 23 Skidoo was one of the first truly national fad expressions. I had not heard the term before. Have you?
Anyways, if you have made it all the way through my ramblings, thank you. I know this is a bit disjointed, but my thoughts are a bit disjointed, as always. I am trying to be more honest and mindful with my feelings and thoughts while I read his works, which may make my entries a bit more chaotic, but in the end I hope there is a bit more thoughtfulness, candor and sincerity.