Tuesday, October 29, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age and the Invention of The Great Gatsby: Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

Careless People is a well researched look at the jazz age as experienced by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their contemporaries. The author theorizes that the events and people Fitzgerald experienced in 1922 and beyond, before the publication of the book in 1925, shaped the plot and characters. In particular, the author thinks the Hall – Mills unsolved double murder was the basis for the murder in Gatsby.

The book also details the riotous life the Fitzgeralds lived in Great Neck. The interesting people, like Ring Lardner and the newspaper man, Swope, are two of the many characters that make this a particularly interesting section. The bootlegger Max Gerlach, from whom they obtained liquor, and the array of criminal bosses is fascinating reading. It does appear that Gerlach was the prototype for Gatsby's boss and helps to give substance to the background of the book.

I am less certain that the prominence given to the Hall – Mills murder investigation was helpful. I love reading a good murder mystery, but this one was not particularly interesting. With so much space given to recounting the facts of police incompetence and publicity seekers who came forward with outlandish stories, it seemed to me that the author went overboard trying to prove her thesis. I believe reading about the murder could have influenced Fitzgerald. The facts as presented have some resemblance to Gatsby, but not enough to have so much of the book devoted to them.

The ending chapters become much more of a biography of the Fitzgeralds. It's interesting reading, but I found the opening chapters far more helpful, giving shape to an era.

I recommend this book to anyone who is a Fitzgerald fan, or loved Gatsby. It's also a great source of historical information on the jazz age and worth reading just to experience the riotous living under Prohibition.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.