"Thank You for the Light" by F. Scott Fitzgerald Originally published in the August 6, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.
I was very surprised when I opened up this week’s issue of The New Yorkerand found a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Looking at the issue’s list of contributors, it has this to say about Fitzgerald and this story: “F. Scott Fitzgerald was first published in The New Yorker in 1929. This story, written in 1936, was recently found among his papers.”
I must say, it’s always fun to find something new by a long-gone master. It’s also usually disappointing when we come to understand just why the piece was forgotten in the first place.
“Thank You for the Light” is a short piece, taking up merely one page — just three columns — of space in this issue. You can read it all online at the link above in just a few minutes. In fact, in that time you can read it twice, as I did.
Mrs. Hanson is the story’s protagonist, a “somewhat faded woman of forty.” She is a travelling saleswoman in the Mid-west; her product is corsets and girdles. She used to work out east, and she thoroughly enjoyed the tradition of concluding a deal with a drink or a cigarette. In her new area, smoking is shunned.
Not only was she never asked if she would like to smoke but several times her own inquiry as to whether anyone would mind was answered half apologetically with “It’s not that I mind, but it has a bad influence on the employees.”
Consequently, this hard-working woman is missing her comfort, and she feels even more lost since everyone seems to look down on her for her habit.
After a particularly grueling day with no escapes to smoke in private, she wanders into a church. And for me, the story barely gets over its rather unclever play with the title. In whatever bit of time Fitzgerald took to write this, he did manage to instill it with the frenetic energy of someone dying for a cigarette. The tone is just right. But I can’t say there was much more than that. Am I missing something?