Since its publication in 1925, The Great Gatsby has become one of the world's best-loved books, delighting audiences across the world. Careless People tells the true story behind F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, exploring in newly rich detail the relation of Fitzgerald's classic to the chaotic world he in which he lived. Fitzgerald set his novel in 1922, and Careless People carefully reconstructs the crucial months during which Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald returned to New York in the autumn of 1922 - the parties, the drunken weekends at Great Neck, Long Island, the drives back into the city to the jazz clubs and speakeasies, the casual intersection of high society and organized crime, and the growth of celebrity culture of which the Fitzgeralds themselves were the epitome. And for the first time it returns to the story of Gatsby: the high-profile murder that provided a crucial inspiration for Fitzgerald's tale.
With wit and insight, Sarah Churchwell traces the genesis of a masterpiece, discovering where fiction comes from and how it takes shape in the mind of a genius. Blending biography and history with lost and forgotten newspaper accounts, letters, and newly discovered archival material, Careless People is the biography of a book, telling the extraordinary tale of how F. Scott Fitzgerald created a classic and in the process discovered modern America.
©2013 Sarah Churchwell (P)2014 Tantor
"Prodigious research and fierce affection illumine every remarkable page." (Kirkus Starred Review)
"[Churchwell] evokes the Jazz Age in all its ephemeral glamour and recklessness in her latest book….She excels at providing rich period details." (Publishers Weekly)
"Churchwell brings…a lively curiosity, a gift for making connections, and an infectious passion for Fitzgerald and his greatest novel…A suggestive, almost musical evocation of the spirit of the time." (London Review of Books)
So...you're telling me I can pay people to read books to me whilst I do other things?
A sensational true crime story, historical anecdotes, weird facts and celebrity scoops--all from the year 1922--what more could an American history nerd want?
Add to that an insightful re-examination of The Great Gatsby in the context of these things, and you have a fascinating account of the height of the Jazz Age, and why F. Scott Fitzgerald captured its zeitgeist so perfectly that most contemporary critics dismissed the novel as being too "of the moment" to have any lasting resonance.
I'm not an American Lit scholar and it had been years since I'd re-read The Great Gatsby, so I can only judge this book from a lay reader's perspective, but I found it to be a true pleasure from start to finish.
While it's true that the overlying theme of this book--namely the exploration of the connection between the much-publicized Hall-Mills double-murder and how it informed the plot of Gatsby--becomes a little heavy-handed at times, at the very least it functions as a tidy framework for Churchwell to organize her narrative, allowing her to deftly zoom in and out between the Fitzgerald’s insular world and the bigger world around them.
The murder case, along with other news stories and commentaries Churchwell culls from that year, reinforces how truly modern Fitzgerald’s novels were. Vehicular homicides, “publicity hounds”, public intoxication, trial by the press, “spicy” poplular novels romanticizing infidelity--not to mention the unprecedented liberation of women on every front--were all still alarming new trends, the symptoms of a world turned upside-down and inside-out by rapid technical change and the Great War. The reckless behavior of both the Gatsby characters and the-real life Fitzgeralds reflected a national identity crisis that, arguably, we’re still trying to resolve.
It was fun to revisit the novel and be reminded of why no movie adaptation has been able--and probably never will be--to capture it's underlying brilliance.
Last but not least, Kate Reading's silky-smooth narration is a true delight--her reading of Zelda's voice is particularly mesmerizing--and the production is flawless. I will definitely be actively be seeking more of Reading's performances!
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