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Book 155: Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

Book 155: Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby.
Author: Sarah Churchwell, 2013.
Genre: Non-Fiction. True Crime. Social History. Biography. Literary Studies.
Other Details: Hardback. 438 pages.

A fascinating look at the autumn of 1922, when F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda returned to New York and the seeds for 'The Great Gatsby'. Since its publication in 1925, 'The Great Gatsby' has become one of the world's best-loved books. 'Careless People' tells the true story behind F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, exploring in newly rich detail its relation to the extravagant, scandalous, and chaotic world in which the author lived. With wit and insight, Sarah Churchwell traces the genesis of a masterpiece, mapping where fiction comes from, and how it takes shape in the mind of a genius. 'Careless People' tells the extraordinary tale of how F. Scott Fitzgerald created a classic and in the process discovered modern America. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Not long before he died F. Scott Fitzgerald scrawled a list of sources for each of Gatsby's nine chapters. Churchwell uses this list as a template for her own nine chapters. The book proved an interesting combination of a social history of the 1920s, true crime in the form of a sensational 1922 double murder that may have influenced Fitzgerald, a biography of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and finally a summary of the literary scholarship that examines the genesis and structure of The Great Gatsby. It is quite amazing to read that when he died Fitzgerald was mainly forgotten and yet now is heralded as one of the 20th Century's greatest writers and The Great Gatsby, a modern classic.

Overall, I found this an informative work of non-fiction. I felt that Churchwell struck a good balance between popular non-fiction in the vein of Kate Summerscale and a scholarly work. For those interested a comprehensive bibliography of sources and notes are included. Her picture of the Roaring 20s and the culture of excess that surrounded the Fitzgeralds was very vivid.

I loved the cover art for this book. It was based on a 1925 suggested book plate for F. Scott Fitzgerald made by Herb Roth and published in The New Yorker. Fitzgerald pasted a copy of the image into the front inside cover of the scrapbook he created for The Great Gatsby.

1925 Bookplate


Tags: biography, history, literature history, non-fiction, true crime
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