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Benjamin Button grows to babyhood

December 25, 2008 |  1:11 pm

Bb_baby

Amy Shearn continues our discussion of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," looking at the second half.

I find it interesting how in Section 8, as Benjamin finds himself growing younger than his wife, we get our first real insight into Benjamin's mind. "Instead of being delighted, he was uneasy -- he was growing younger. He had hitherto hoped that once he reached a bodily age equivalent to his age in years, the grotesque phenomenon which had marked his birth would cease to function ... his destiny seemed to him awful, incredible." Someone noted earlier that there's something slightly unsatisfying about this story, and I feel like this might be why: While the writing is brisk, smart, and funny, and the social commentary acute, we never really get to know any of the characters in the way we're accustomed to in contemporary fiction. There's always a bit of a distance. Which is what makes this moment so wonderful and sort of heartbreaking. To finally know that Benjamin feels the discomfort and precariousness of his situation! Poor guy. His wife helps by being completely not understanding at all and accusing him of trying to be different. Real nice.

At this point the story seems to double back on itself, like the bell curve that was mentioned earlier, or a kind of narrative mobius strip -- he tries school again, and the Army. I love that Benjamin's son starts to behave fatherly toward him, just as Benjamin's father was confused and disarmed by him and didn't know quite how to act. The story's as much about other people and how they deal with an unusual, rule-breaking individual as it is Benjamin himself.

Fitzgerald's picture of babyhood after the jump.

In the end, I think Fitzgerald's picture of babyhood is interesting. Benjamin loses all his memories and finally for the first time in his life has untroubled dreams and is able to just enjoy himself -- the coziness, the smell of milk. While the story is funny on the surface, lurking beneath is a vaguely depressing view of life -- that the good times are all in the beginning, when you hardly even know what's happening, and that afterward everything is complicated and difficult. And while I loved reading this story, and love the idea of it, there is something vaguely unsatisfying about it. I guess part of it is that most short stories follow a character undergoing some moment of change, no matter how small or large. Benjamin undergoes physical change, sure, but we never really know him emotionally; and the changes all happen to him; he's never the one making choices or decisions that cause or reflect these changes.  Does that make sense?  In that way, it's a little flat and reads much more like a fable or fairy tale than a literary short story. But to my mind, as fables and fairy tales go, it's pretty darn entertaining.  And I totally can't wait to see the movie.

-- Amy Shearn

Photo by Sugar Pond via Flickr.

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