Fitzgerald only completed four novels during his lifetime, with his fifth and final novel The Love of the Last Tycoon only a fragment at the time of his death in 1940. The reason for the low number is neither writer's block nor laziness, but the simple economic fact that short stories earned him substantially more money than his novels. Money that he needed to maintain the luxurious lifestyle he and Zelda got used to after the runaway success of his first novel This Side of Paradise.
1920: 'This Side of Paradise'
Fitzgerald's first novel is in many respects an autobiographical account of the author's own life - even though Fitzgerald was only 23 at the time he wrote it. It tells the story of Amory Blaine, a young man who seems to be unable to find his place in the world. Fitzgerald's account of youthful disillusionment and disorientation was an instant bestseller: it made Fitzgerald rich and famous and enabled him to start a professional career as a writer.
1922: 'The Beautiful and Damned'
Fitzgerald's second novel is the account of hedonistic socialites whose lives unravel as soon as the magic of young love fades away along with her beauty and his inheritance: Anthony and Gloria Patch are the least sympathetic of Fitzgerald's heroes. Fitzgerald wanted to prove himself as a "serious author" and maybe drove some of his points home with too much emphasis. Nevertheless, the tragedy of young people who are as beautiful as intelligent, but who lack the moral integrity to face the world as it is still rings true today.
1925: 'The Great Gatsby'
Fitzgerald's masterpiece: The story of young parvenu Jay Gatsby who went off to become incredibly wealthy just to impress the girl he fell in love with when he was just an ordinary soldier. The story is told by the girl's nephew Nick Carraway who is simultaneously attracted and repelled by beauty and the moral indifference of his rich friends. Never before and never again was Fitzgerald's writing so precise and so beautiful at the same time.
1934: 'Tender is the Night'
It took Fitzgerald nine years and many unsuccessful attempts to finish his fourth novel. By the time it was published, America was deep in the throes of economic depression and no one really cared to read Fitzgerald's tales of the rich and beautiful. 'Tender is the Night' tells the story of Dick Diver, a psychologist who marries one of his patients, only to find that neither she nor he himself are a match for his grand illusions. Fitzgerald's saddest novel is unrivalled in its haunting beauty.
1940: 'The Love of the Last Tycoon'
Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at the age of 44 before he was able to finish his last novel. Yet, even the fragment that he left is well worth reading: It tells the story of Hollywood producer Monroe Stahr (modeled on MGM producer Irving Thalberg) who has so far successfully balanced commerce and art, but who is now about to fall prey to business men who don't care for his work ethics.
F. Scott Fitzgerald - An Annotated Bibliography