Surely enough has been written about F. Scott Fitzgerald, the man who coined "the Jazz Age" and symbolized the Roaring Twenties, whose very name conjures up a meteoric rise and an equally spectacular fall? But the better question might be, Why has so much ink been spent on a writer who completed only four novels, who fell from grace in the 1930s only to be resurrected twenty years later? The answer, according to the cultural critic Arthur Krystal, "is the problem that is Fitzgerald."

Drawn to the glitter of fame but aspiring to the empyrean heights of Joseph Conrad and James Joyce, Fitzgerald careened from the perfection of The Great Gatsby to the hack world of Hollywood screenwriting, penning stories that were either brilliant distillations of the age or superficial works of fiction. Like America itself, Fitzgerald was a work in progress, a self-created and conflicted human being striving for ideals that neither he nor the nation could ever live up to. Beset by contradictions, buoyed by hope, fueled by alcohol, unable to settle permanently in any one place, Fitzgerald possessed what John Updike aptly described as "an aptitude for chaos and a dream of order."

In this unusual and concise biography—more a layering of impressions than a chronological guide—Krystal gives us not only the peripatetic and turbulent life of a cultural icon but also the intellectual sweep of a period in history that created our modern America. Some Unfinished Chaos delivers a nuanced portrait of a man whose various sides embodied the trends, passions, and pursuits of the imperfect society that both glorified and dismissed him.

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