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Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsbyby Sarah Churchwell
Synopses & Reviews
Kirkus (STARRED review)
"Churchwell... has written an excellent book... shes earned the right to play on [Fitzgerald's] court. Prodigious research and fierce affection illumine every remarkable page.”
The autumn of 1922 found F. Scott Fitzgerald at the height of his fame, days from turning twenty-six years old, and returning to New York for the publication of his fourth book, Tales of the Jazz Age. A spokesman for Americas carefree younger generation, Fitzgerald found a home in the glamorous and reckless streets of New York. Here, in the final incredible months of 1922, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald drank and quarreled and partied amid financial scandals, literary milestones, car crashes, and celebrity disgraces.
Yet the Fitzgeralds triumphant return to New York coincided with another event: the discovery of a brutal double murder in nearby New Jersey, a crime made all the more horrible by the farce of a police investigation—which failed to accomplish anything beyond generating enormous publicity for the newfound celebrity participants. Proclaimed the crime of the decade” even as its proceedings dragged on for years, the Mills-Hall murder has been wholly forgotten today. But the enormous impact of this bizarre crime can still be felt in The Great Gatsby, a novel Fitzgerald began planning that autumn of 1922 and whose plot he ultimately set within that fateful year.
Careless People is a unique literary investigation: a gripping double narrative that combines a forensic search for clues to an unsolved crime and a quest for the roots of Americas best loved novel. Overturning much of the received wisdom of the period, Careless People blends biography and history with lost newspaper accounts, letters, and newly discovered archival materials. With great wit and insight, acclaimed scholar of American literature Sarah Churchwell reconstructs the events of that pivotal autumn, revealing in the process new ways of thinking about Fitzgeralds masterpiece.
Interweaving the biographical story of the Fitzgeralds with the unfolding investigation into the murder of Hall and Mills, Careless People is a thrilling combination of literary history and murder mystery, a mesmerizing journey into the dark heart of Jazz Age America.
"University of East Anglia literature professor Churchwell (The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe) evokes the Jazz Age in all its ephemeral glamour and recklessness in her latest book. Drawing on newspaper articles, correspondence, diary entries, scrapbooks, and newly discovered archival material, the author presents 'a collage' of Scott and Zelda Fitzgeralds' world and a social history of the times. Churchwell focuses on 1922 — the year the couple moved to Great Neck, N.Y., on Long Island, and a gruesome, unsolved double murder (the Mills-Hall case, 'the crime of the decade') took place in nearby New Jersey. She excels at providing rich period details — drugstores selling illegal liquor, ubiquitous car crashes — to show how the patchwork quality of the times affected Fitzgerald's thinking as he composed The Great Gatsby. Indeed, the book highlights how accurately Fitzgerald intuited what was to come: the damage being done to American society by focusing on wealth; the way mass media would give rise to a celebrity culture. Yet, in an effort to find a new angle on The Great Gatsby, Churchwell strains to establish a close connection between the Mills-Hall murders and Fitzgerald's work on the book, with little evidence to support the tie, other than the fact that they occurred around the same time. Illus. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn't her crime that shocked the nationand#8212;it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancand#233;e Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.
Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned a heartbroken Alice. Her desperation grew with each unanswered letterand#8212;and her fatherand#8217;s razor soon went missing. On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancand#233;eand#8217;s throat. Her same-sex love was deemed insane by her father that very night, and medical experts agreed: This was a dangerous and incurable perversion. As the courtroom was expanded to accommodate national interest, Alice spent months in jailand#8212;including the night that three of her fellow prisoners were lynched (an event which captured the attention of journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells). After a jury of "the finest men in Memphis" declared Alice insane, she was remanded to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances just a few years later.
Alice + Freda Forever recounts this tragic, real-life love story with over 100 illustrated love letters, maps, artifacts, historical documents, newspaper articles, courtroom proceedings, and intimate, domestic scenesand#8212;painting a vivid picture of a sadly familiar world.
About the Author
Sarah Churchwell is the Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe and coeditor of Must Read: Rediscovering the Bestseller, and her literary journalism has been published widely. An American currently living in London, she is a regular broadcaster and contributor to the BBC.
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