Careless People

From The Guardian:

When F Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940, he was, in the words of his biographer Matthew J Bruccoli, “an unemployed screenwriter”, whose fiction was largely ignored, if not entirely forgotten. The Great Gatsby had sold only seven copies in the last year of his life, and his complete works had earned him a grand total of $13.13 in royalties. Not long before his death, Fitzgerald scrawled a list of sources for each of Gatsby's nine chapters, in the back of a book by André Malraux. Some of these notes are slightly mysterious: decades of digging by Fitzgerald scholars has not revealed who exactly “Mary” was, or what precisely the phrase “the day in New York” might mean. Others are readily comprehensible, such as “Gt Neck” – Great Neck being the real-life version of West Egg, the location of Gatsby's Long Island mansion and the narrator Nick Carraway's rented cottage.

Sarah Churchwell's new book uses this list as a starting point in her attempt to “piece together the chaotic and inchoate world behind Gatsby”. It's a sprightly, enjoyable and slightly strange book: part “biography” of the novel, part sketch of the roaring 1920s, part brief account of the second half of Fitzgerald's life. Churchwell is perceptive and well-informed. Gatsby enthusiasts – and what person with a brain isn't one? – will enjoy her reconstruction of the various fragments drawn from life, books and news stories that Fitzgerald combined to make his masterpiece. Great Neck plays a central part in the story. When Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald moved there in late 1922, it had recently been invaded by newly rich, showbizzy New Yorkers (Gatsby's love, Daisy Buchanan, regards West Egg as an “unprecedented 'place' which Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village”). The old money had their grand summer houses on the other side of Manhasset Bay, at Sands Point – East Egg in the novel, where Tom and Daisy Buchanan's white palace sits, with its dock and famous green light, shining across the bay. Zelda later suggested that the main inspiration for Gatsby was a Great Neck neighbour called Max Gerlach, “who was said to be General Pershing's nephew and was in trouble over bootlegging”.

More here.

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