I was one of those students who enjoyed her English Lit classes in high-school and I received two Humanities credits my Freshman year of college by taking 2000 & 3000 Level English Lit classes. Needless to say I’ve read the Great Gatsby more than once (and I’ve seen Redford as well as DiCaprio try their hand at the titular character) which drew me to Sarah Churchwell’s Careless People.
I’m ashamed to admit I fell asleep more than once trying to get through this one- in Ms. Churchwell’s defense I do most of my reading in bed. There was just too much going on, none of it particularly captivating, and the narration is all over the place; it got a bit confusing. The primary objective was to discuss both the Mills-Hall murders as well as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s lives during the writing of Gatsby. There are a lot of quotes from Fitzgerald’s novel and there is a lot of discussion about how real events & people in Scott’s life influenced his novel. I was most interested to learn that the Great Gatsby was not a huge success when it was first published; while critics for the most part gave it favorable reviews it did not sell huge quantities upon its initial publication. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that Gatsby became the English class staple it is today.
I think I would have enjoyed a more clear narrative of the Fitzgerald’s lives before, during and after the Gatsby years and if Churchwell would have left the true crime on the editor’s floor- or in a subsequent publication. Scott was a rock star in his heyday who capitalized on his fame and lived an extravagant lifestyle; unfortunately he was also an alcoholic who drunk himself to death. Zelda, who struggled to find an audience for her publications, spent most of her adult life in and out of institutions.
Time to read something a bit breezier.