Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby Info

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Kirkus (STARRED review)
"Churchwell... has
written an excellent book... she’s 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 America’s
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
America’s 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
Fitzgerald’s 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.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby:

3

Aug 14, 2016

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell is a 2014 Penguin Press publication.

This book was promoted, via a recent newsletter I subscribe to, as a ‘True Crime’ must read. So, after reading the synopsis, I checked it out of the library.

How was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” connected to a double homicide in the 1920’s?

The Mills- Hall murders in New Jersey, committed in 1922 was touted as the crime of the decade. An Episcopal Priest and Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell is a 2014 Penguin Press publication.

This book was promoted, via a recent newsletter I subscribe to, as a ‘True Crime’ must read. So, after reading the synopsis, I checked it out of the library.

How was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” connected to a double homicide in the 1920’s?

The Mills- Hall murders in New Jersey, committed in 1922 was touted as the crime of the decade. An Episcopal Priest and a member of the church choir, were having a torrid affair, while married to other people. They were brutally murdered as they met each other clandestinely. The case remains unresolved to this day.

The case was sensational, to say the very least, but what did it have to do the Fitzgerald’s great masterpiece? The author suggests that Fitzgerald could not have possibly escaped the rabid headlines concerning the murder, and drew inspiration from it for the book he was working on in that same year.

The book attempts to parallel the crime, and other newsworthy happenings in New York, in 1922, against the Fitzgerald’s lifestyle, and the coincidences between them and the events that transpired in “The Great Gatsby”.

The book takes a fresh and unique approach here with the dual storylines, one on the Fitzgerald’s, and certain notable events that took place in 1922, that just so happened to crop up in “The Great Gatsby” in some subtle way, or even in an obvious way, in some cases. The second storyline is focused on the Mills- Hall murder case.

While I do love reading stories set in the 20’s, and enjoy historical trivia concerning the decade, I didn’t expect to find such tidbits in a book marketed as “True Crime.”

The author includes lists of phrases that first appeared in the 20’s, which was interesting, but had no bearing on the topics the book is supposed to concern itself with.

The entire book is wonky like that, with history sprinkled in with trivia, facts about the murder, the investigation, Fitzgerald’s personal life, his relationship with Zelda, and of course the way it all ties in with the literary genius of ‘Gatsby’.

While this book is entertaining on many fronts, the true crime story is truly puzzling and frustrating, and the investigation was mind blowing, with no convictions ever taking place. But, for some reason, I had a very hard time maintaining my focus with this one.

The critique and analysis of ‘Gatsby’ are always fun to discuss, but this book will have you looking at the novel with a new perspective.

However, I suppose I was expecting something totally different when I started the book, and found the structuring of it a little jarring. I applaud the originality of it, and enjoyed many aspects of it, but the lack of cohesiveness took me out of it, too often, and I found my mind wandering off on a few occasions.

What the book did accomplish for me is a desire to read a drier accounting of the Mills- Hall murder, re-read Gatsby again, since it’s been a while and it happens to be one of the only ‘required reading' novels I actually liked, and I would like to read more on F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and I would like to find more books about the 1920's.

Maybe after I do all of those things, I will revisit this book and see if I can view it with more of an open mind and will appreciate the style or approach the author employed, and see the connections clearly.

3 stars
...more
3

Jul 28, 2013

I've gotta say I ate this book up. As a fan of Scott Fitzgerald and his seemingly unfilmable masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, I couldn't get enough of this account of its creation. It opens in the autumn of 1922 when Fizgerald and his wife Zelda return to New York from the midwest after the birth of their daughter, Scotty (who they leave behind for a full twelve months!), and conjectures initially on the influences on the young author during the year in which he set his greatest novel, though he I've gotta say I ate this book up. As a fan of Scott Fitzgerald and his seemingly unfilmable masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, I couldn't get enough of this account of its creation. It opens in the autumn of 1922 when Fizgerald and his wife Zelda return to New York from the midwest after the birth of their daughter, Scotty (who they leave behind for a full twelve months!), and conjectures initially on the influences on the young author during the year in which he set his greatest novel, though he wouldn't start writing it for another two. Part biography, part literary appreciation, part social history, the book takes the form of a cumulative series of essays, all sharp and occasionally witty, examining (inter alia) Fitzgerald's love of alcohol during the era of prohibition — a statute that seems to have been barely policed, and was certainly ineffectual enough not to prevent our hero from developing the chronic addiction that would eventually kill him, at 44, in 1941.

The style is warm, engaging and perceptive. Sarah Churchwell clearly loves her subject and knows Gatsby inside out. She offers a succession of insights and retells details of the Gatsby story, often with generous quotes, which of course are joyous to recall. We meet the New York literati of the era and follow the parties and adventures that befall them, learning that young Scott was acclaimed early as the most accurate chronicler of The Jazz Age (the moniker coined by himself), and that this reputation would eventually result in the critical dismissal of his masterpiece, regarded by most readers at the time as mere poetic reportage. The depth of his themes didn't surface in the American consciousness until about 1950, a generation after it was written and almost a decade after his death.

It's astonishing to learn that The Great Gatsby was a publishing failure, knowing as we do that had he lived the author would have become a multimillionaire on the royalties of that one small work on its own. He himself knew of, and declared privately to various intimates, its profundity. He was elated at his labour's conclusion, feeling he'd channeled something magnificent and unprecedented. As he had. But he was never to know of the love and reverence with which millions would come to regard it today. He died practically a pauper, and like Gatsby's, his funeral was attended by barely a handful.

The research supporting this work is intense. Sarah Churchwell has delved into the records, diaries and writings of nearly everyone she mentions, plus every press article that survives, cross-referencing it all with a meticulous, light and ironic hand. While you may not agree with all her opinions, others may impress, such as her clear observation that the novel is almost entirely about cheating (Fitzgerald might prefer the more romantic 'illusion') - but her understanding of and passion for the work she's celebrating are deep. The book is rich in detail: you learn practically every American slang term that made its first appearance in 1922. You discover that in that year, the Charleston wasn't danced. And that taxi cabs sported the Swastika. And until this near-party of a book came my way, I knew of Zelda only that she had a reputation, but of its precise nature I'd been never aware. This journey carries us right through to the deaths of both Fitzgeralds, and Zelda's, for all its tragedy, is a doozie. Presumably re-issued to cash in on the recent screen adaptation, the volume is a handsome hardcover, jacketless but satisfyingly sturdy. American born, the author lives in England with an English husband and a career as an academic in American studies for the British.

Somewhat unnecessarily, and possibly in a publisher's gambit to give the work some 'point of difference', Churchwell endeavours to link a sensational double-murder that took place in New Jersey in 1922 to Fitzgerald's creative process: the conceit is somewhat tenuous in my opinion, irrelevant and something of a waste of space, but it's diverting enough, peters out harmlessly and indeed, as just another in the rainbow of social colours with which she adorns her rich presentation, did nothing to dampen the delight I got from this read. ...more
3

Aug 09, 2013

Since the publication of The Great Gatsby in 1925, it has been talked and talked about. Some people were forced to read it in high school, some hate it and others love it. No matter what you think about the book you can’t deny its significance. Careless People looks at The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald and what was happening during the Jazz era. More specifically the months when this classic too place.

I loved The Great Gatsby, the first time I read it I got little out of it (see review) but Since the publication of The Great Gatsby in 1925, it has been talked and talked about. Some people were forced to read it in high school, some hate it and others love it. No matter what you think about the book you can’t deny its significance. Careless People looks at The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald and what was happening during the Jazz era. More specifically the months when this classic too place.

I loved The Great Gatsby, the first time I read it I got little out of it (see review) but the second time around, I feel like I really understood it (see that review as well). Though I’ve come to realise this novel is full of layers and the more you read and research the more you will get out of this novel. It has been widely though that The Great Gatsby was autobiographical in nature so understanding F. Scott Fitzgerald is important when reading this classic critically.

Sarah Churchwell has made life a little easier for people that love and want to learn more about this novel. Careless People looks at the text and then different events that were happening at the time of writing this novel. She also talks about the Fitzgeralds (a very interesting couple) and tries to give us some context about the motivations and thoughts behind this Magnum opus.

So you get historical context as well as a unique look into the lives of the Fitzgeralds and what we call the Jazz Age. I really enjoyed this book, as a lover of The Great Gatsby (not the terrible movie) I found it fascinating to learn about just what has happening at that time, especially in New York and F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the most interesting thinks I learnt from the book was about the lexicon, and new words coined at the time that are used today.

Something I often worry about when reading a non-fiction book like that is referencing. It is not common practice but I seem to respect a book more if I can see where information was found. Careless People did a great job with this; over 50 pages of notes and a bibliography so if you are interested (like me) you can look further and do some independent researching. Part biography, literary criticism, history and true crime, Careless People has a lot of information in it but it is only a scratching the surface on all accounts.

I wish I had this much to say about a book, especially the ones I love; I just want to dive in and learn all I can about it. I often struggle to write a review post, but one day I hope I can pull something off like this; keep an eye out for my 400 page reviews. It is clear that Churchwell is passionate about The Great Gatsby. This would be a great companion next time you read the classic, I can imagine how helpful it would be. I loved Careless People; I want to read more books like this, particularly about novels I love.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2013/... ...more
4

Feb 18, 2014

3.5. The nineteen twenties were a very interesting period in history and what made Fitzgerald so fascinating is that his novels documented this period, the Jazz age, perfectly. A fascinating look at this time, of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, their opulent lifestyle, his struggles to keep writing amidst the constant partying and drinking. Churchwell does a wonderful job bringing this period to light as well as showing the reader a couple in constant flux. Their is a double thread to this book, as 3.5. The nineteen twenties were a very interesting period in history and what made Fitzgerald so fascinating is that his novels documented this period, the Jazz age, perfectly. A fascinating look at this time, of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, their opulent lifestyle, his struggles to keep writing amidst the constant partying and drinking. Churchwell does a wonderful job bringing this period to light as well as showing the reader a couple in constant flux. Their is a double thread to this book, as a murder took place not far from were Scott and Zelda were living, that made the papers daily. It was a double murder, an adulterous relationship and the author ascertains that this may have influenced Fitzgerald and the plot of the Great Gatsby. I also loved that the author took pains, unlike many of the books on the Fitzgeralds, to show just how hard Scott tried to take care of his mentally ill wife, Zelda. My only complaint is that I wish the author would have spent a little less time covering the extensive partying, sometimes I found this to be over kill. Other than that this was an amazing look back at a time past and a couple that seemed larger than life ...more
5

May 15, 2013

"The Great Gatsby" was first published in 1925, but Fitzgerald set the novel in 1922, when he and Zelda returned to New York. Fitzgerald was planning his new novel and he wanted to do something different - it would take him two years to finish Gatsby and, in a way, this is a biography of a novel. For, in this book, the author cleverly takes us through the time that Scott and Zelda spent in New York - the events that influenced him and the eighteen months he spent in Great Neck, just outside the "The Great Gatsby" was first published in 1925, but Fitzgerald set the novel in 1922, when he and Zelda returned to New York. Fitzgerald was planning his new novel and he wanted to do something different - it would take him two years to finish Gatsby and, in a way, this is a biography of a novel. For, in this book, the author cleverly takes us through the time that Scott and Zelda spent in New York - the events that influenced him and the eighteen months he spent in Great Neck, just outside the city.

1922 was a remarkable year, which began with the publication of "Ulysses" and ended with "The Waste Land". This book seeks the origins of Gatsby, reconstructs the Jazz Age, and shows how Fitzgerald reflected the stories around him. The major news story at that time was that of the murder of Eleanor Mills, a married woman, and her lover Edward Hall; who were shot through the head near an abandoned farmhouse, their love letters scattered around the corpses. The murder of the adulterous couple held America spellbound and was in the newspapers for virtually the entire time that Fitzgerald was in New York.

When Scott and Zelda decided to look for a house in Great Neck, it was a former fishing village that was becoming popular with the rich and famous - "the Hollywood of the East" and which he re-named 'West Egg' in his novel. His time there is exhausting to even read about, with a backdrop of financial swindles, scandals and fads, car accidents, bootleggers, speakeasies, endless parties, bad behaviour and epic drinking binges. Throughout "Careless People", Sarah Churchwell ties everything together into how it relates to The Great Gatsby, with the chapters of her book corresponding to the chapters of the novel. As the murder trial which fascinated the country descended into debacle, the parties blended into one another - of one party, Zelda wrote, "nobody knew whose party it was. It had been going on for weeks..."

Eventually, the Fitzgerald's decided to leave for Europe, so Scott could work in peace. That, anyway, was the plan. "I've been unhappy but my work hasn't suffered from it," he wrote to his publisher when the novel was finished. Indeed, it hadn't suffered, far from it. Obviously, this book has been released now to tie in with the new film version. Whether you are coming to Gatsby through watching the film or have long been a lover of the novel, you will find this book about how and when Gatsby was written fascinating. Equally interesting, is the story of the murder investigation and trial, which the author follows throughout. Overall, this is a fascinating account of a bygone era and the story behind a great work of literature.
...more
3

Aug 24, 2013

I had to give up with this one in the end. I tried several times to reconnect with the thread of this book, and while it was interesting reading about the unsolved double murder that occured in 1922 that Fitzgerald may have referenced while writing 'The Great Gatsby', and the insanely selfish and giroscopic existance of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald that definetly DID get included in the same novel, but it was so chop and change I lost my connection with the book after just over 200 pages.
Frankly - I had to give up with this one in the end. I tried several times to reconnect with the thread of this book, and while it was interesting reading about the unsolved double murder that occured in 1922 that Fitzgerald may have referenced while writing 'The Great Gatsby', and the insanely selfish and giroscopic existance of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald that definetly DID get included in the same novel, but it was so chop and change I lost my connection with the book after just over 200 pages.
Frankly - I ceased to care.
I admit I have to concentrate more on non-fiction books, in fact I have whizzed through about 3 fiction novels whilst readin this book at the same time, but 'Careless People' made me want to throw the hedonistic lot into a dark corner and sit quietly with a cup of tea and a biscuit instead if a cocktail of dubious concoction and a quick charleston. ...more
4

Jan 17, 2015

I picked up this book because I avidly admire the writing of Fitzgerald in his American anthem, "The Great Gatsby." Henry Miller once advised that he only found his voice after becoming annihilated in New York and Paris, and began to write unabashedly about his own life in a deeper, mindful way. Fitzgerald's "Gatsby" is about his own life, nearly entirely with fictional proxies for the people he knew and most of all, Zelda. They were a fascinating couple from the outset living among the "top I picked up this book because I avidly admire the writing of Fitzgerald in his American anthem, "The Great Gatsby." Henry Miller once advised that he only found his voice after becoming annihilated in New York and Paris, and began to write unabashedly about his own life in a deeper, mindful way. Fitzgerald's "Gatsby" is about his own life, nearly entirely with fictional proxies for the people he knew and most of all, Zelda. They were a fascinating couple from the outset living among the "top 1%", as he coined it, on Long Island during the 20's just before the Great Depression's waning tide sunk all boats. He wagered his destiny on his ability to write and even among the best writers, that's a dicey proposition and is rarely a feasible recipe over the long term. In his last royalty statement at age 44 just before he died from alcoholism and a heart attack at Sheilah Graham's apartment in California, as Zelda lived in an asylum, Fitzgerald sold nine copies of "Tender Is the Night" and seven copies of "Gatsby." Fitzgerald had not sold a single book outside the United States in his last 12 months and all book royalties combined earned him only $13.13 in total. Zelda would die consumed by a kitchen fire as she was locked in her room on the top floor at Highland Hospital in her asylum in 1948. They lived their lives to the hilt and ended them in the full bloom of tragedy, which could hardly have been more heartbreaking for their daughter, Scottie at Vassar. His literary resurrection would come in the 1950's and "Gatsby" would become recognized for the genius that resides there, hidden so many years from understanding by intelligent readers who should have recognized it much earlier. Nevertheless, he escaped anonymity and was widely read for earlier works in his time and for all his works after his death. So that is a blessed redemption for the speculative lifelong ambitions of any novelist, at a minimum, and he certainly had his day in the sun. The chief reason for my reading this book was to understand the back story of his life, which became projected so extensively into the characters and story lines of "Gatsby." He really did document the heyday of the Jazz Age in a compelling and memorable way with literary style and depth and beauty, which will leave him immortal in the Pantheon of American novelists. "Careless People" clarifies that Fitzgerald fully understood in "Gatsby" that the careless acts of the 1% had a profound impact upon life in America, and it still does, upon the other 99% of which Nick Carraway is one of the most celebrated observer of American wealth and flagrant even obsessive materialism. "Gatsby" become one of the 20th century's earliest novels about the much vaunted American Dream as writers from the USA began to take their rightful place among the immortal writers of England, Ireland and France. After Fitzgerald died deeply in debt and hopelessly alcoholic from the great excesses of his incendiary lifestyle, his modest and poorly attended wake was held in a mortuary in the Wordsworth Room in a seedy LA neighborhood. His era became a prolific age for the American novel and Fitzgerald did his part to propel it eventually into global prominence along with Hemingway, Wharton, Faulkner, Willa Cather, Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis and James Farrell. I found it poignant that Fitzgerald alludes to the great dangers not only created by "careless people" among the wealthiest class of Americans but also the collection of tragedies awaiting a heedless nation. He discovered that man's unavoidably, tragic destiny was to live outside of Paradise, desperately lost and yet capable of finding solace in faith. He cited at the very end of his life his highest respect for Andre Malraux's novel, "Man's Hope." He believed in the green light at the end of Gatsby's dock for the hope for the future of America that it symbolized. In his day the vast American Eden had been conquered and settled all the way to the West Coast. At the end of Gatsby Fitzgerald imagines what the first Dutch settlers must have found in their first glimpses of the rich, green environs of New York, when America was truly a garden of Paradise. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." If you hold Fitzgerald and his novels in high regard, this book will definitely engage and enlighten you. If you haven't read much Fitzgerald, then I urge you to do so for the sake of truly understanding a source of the flickering flame of the American Dream. ...more
4

Feb 26, 2014

Thought it was good, but got a little bogged down in the middle. Most startling part was Fitzgerald's last royalty check: $7.12 No wonder he drank!
5

Aug 20, 2013

carelesspeople2

Following my recent re-read of The Great Gatsby this newly published book – which is really the biography of that novel – was crying out to me. I have been spectacularly bad at reading non-fiction this year – even worse than I usually am. However I found this book to be totally compelling, well written, superbly well researched and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In Careless People Sarah Churchwell makes a detailed examination particularly of the autumn of 1922 – what was happening in carelesspeople2

Following my recent re-read of The Great Gatsby this newly published book – which is really the biography of that novel – was crying out to me. I have been spectacularly bad at reading non-fiction this year – even worse than I usually am. However I found this book to be totally compelling, well written, superbly well researched and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In Careless People Sarah Churchwell makes a detailed examination particularly of the autumn of 1922 – what was happening in America as a whole and especially in New York and Long Island at this period. This is the period that the Great Gatsby is set in, the novel was completed in 1924 and published the following year, but Churchwell maintains that F. Scott Fitzgerald would have been enormously influenced by what was happening around him – as well as by the hedonistic Jazz Age parties that he and Zelda were already infamous for being a part of. The story of Scott and Zelda’s drinking has the potential to make the reader feel just a little drunk while reading about it – Churchwell helpfully includes a fairly comprehensive list of 1920’s terms for inebriation – it would be fair to say that Scott, Zelda and many of their friends and acquaintances were frequently “boiled as an owl” “ossified” “over the bay” or “spifflicated”. Their excesses had a terrible effect ultimately of course – which are detailed toward the end of this book as we look beyond the 1920’s to the 1940’s when Scott and later Zelda died.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made”

( F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby )

The Great Gatsby is about disillusion and the American dream – and this was something that F Scott Fitzgerald knew all about it seems, but as well as the story of Gatsby’s parties and Gatsby’s great love of Daisy, it is, towards the end, the story of a murder. 1922 was an extraordinary year, a time of flappers and The Jazz Age, it also saw the publication Ulysses and T S Eliot’s The Waste Land, and it was a time of prohibition in the United States with the rise of the speakeasy, bootlegging and illegal stills. Upon arrival in New York Scott and Zelda soon find a house in Great Neck – just outside of New York, a place of rich mansions it is the place Scott renamed West Egg when he put it into his novel The Great Gatsby.

millsToward the end of September 1922, as the Fitzgeralds arrived in New York, there was a double murder in New Brunswick that captivated the whole of America. The media fed off the case, speculation about what, how, why etc. was rife – photographs of the various witnesses, victims, and their families appeared in the newspapers almost daily at first, day trippers began to visit the site, trampling all over potential evidence. The investigation was mishandled at every turn, witness talked to the press, changing their stories and lapping up the attention. This case was of such high profile, that the Fitzgeralds who were friends with the newspaper editor of The New York World, would surely have been as aware of the case as everyone else. The connection between the Hall/Mills murder case and F Scott Fitzgerald and his novel The Great Gatsby is probably at best tenuous – but I don’t think that matters, it is a fascinating story in itself – and it certainly adds some colour to the story of the autumn of 1922 in New York. The story dominated the news during the eighteen months that the Fitzgeralds were in New York – it concerned an adulterous couple, and victim Eleanor Mills could certainly have been an inspiration for Myrtle Wilson.

Careless People is a fascinating and absorbing read, and I was just as captivated by the story of Scott and Zelda (who I realised I had previously known nothing about – apart from that they were married and he wrote books and stories some of which I had read) as I was by the story of that infamous murder case. I was actually really saddened by how little success Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed during his lifetime, his disappointment was palpable, he knew what he done in writing the Great Gatsby – but it seemed that the world didn’t. F Scott Fitzgerald died at the end of 1940 at the age of 44 – and by as soon as the 1950’s The Great Gatsby had become required reading in schools – how desperately sad that he didn’t live to see the world start to appreciate his work. F Scott Fitzgerald

A wonderful book for anyone who loved The Great Gatsby – I would suggest that if you want to read Careless People – and you have not read The Great Gatsby – you should definitely read the novel first. This will be that rare thing – a non-fiction book I will keep and consider re-reading in the future. What with this and my re-reading of The Great Gatsby a few weeks ago – I feel an F Scott Fitzgerald obsession coming on. I suspect the author knows all about having an F Scott Fitzgerald obsession, her detailed research and obvious affection for her subject shines through this excellent book. ...more
1

Oct 09, 2014

The attempt to link Fitzgerald’s creation of Gatsby to the sensational 1922 Hall-Mills murder case, as well as classics such as The Satyricon, pointless lists of Jazz Age slang, familiar Scott-Zelda anecdotes and so forth results in a hodge-podge that is neither enlightening nor interesting. I confess to not being an admirer of the overrated Gatsby,much less his author. Churchill dolls up her tale with every 20’s reference she can think of: Wall Street, Long Island society, the Guggenheim The attempt to link Fitzgerald’s creation of Gatsby to the sensational 1922 Hall-Mills murder case, as well as classics such as The Satyricon, pointless lists of Jazz Age slang, familiar Scott-Zelda anecdotes and so forth results in a hodge-podge that is neither enlightening nor interesting. I confess to not being an admirer of the overrated Gatsby,much less his author. Churchill dolls up her tale with every 20’s reference she can think of: Wall Street, Long Island society, the Guggenheim mansion as a model for Gatsby’s, Prohibition, The Waste Land, Leopold and Loeb, plus mundane synopses of The Great Gatsby. None of this serves to glue this book into any sort of compelling structure ...more
1

Aug 04, 2014

Well-researched but badly written and poorly organized. Sentences like this one abound: "Past the ash heaps, looming like a corner of the Inferno beside Long Island Rail Road, emerging from the clinging grime, through the dry, fallow fields dotted with occasional white-frame Victorian farmhouses, past the outpost of an isolated garage planted along the side of the two-lane road, a red gas pump sprouting in front of it, they drove four miles north of where Charles Cary Rumsey had been killed in a Well-researched but badly written and poorly organized. Sentences like this one abound: "Past the ash heaps, looming like a corner of the Inferno beside Long Island Rail Road, emerging from the clinging grime, through the dry, fallow fields dotted with occasional white-frame Victorian farmhouses, past the outpost of an isolated garage planted along the side of the two-lane road, a red gas pump sprouting in front of it, they drove four miles north of where Charles Cary Rumsey had been killed in a car crash just a few days earlier." ...more
4

Feb 07, 2017

Slow reading but absolutely fascinating. I wish I had read this before I read Gatsby so many years ago. (Of course, it wasn't written then.) Interesting the interplay between the Hall-Mills murder, the sociology of the time, and Fitzgerald's writing. And my favorite part: In 1923, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story that he developed into a play, a political satire about a man who dreams of being a postman but is nagged by his wife to be something more. He meets a bootlegger and drinks some Slow reading but absolutely fascinating. I wish I had read this before I read Gatsby so many years ago. (Of course, it wasn't written then.) Interesting the interplay between the Hall-Mills murder, the sociology of the time, and Fitzgerald's writing. And my favorite part: In 1923, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story that he developed into a play, a political satire about a man who dreams of being a postman but is nagged by his wife to be something more. He meets a bootlegger and drinks some poisonous alcohol and in an alcoholic delirium dreams "he is elected president and nearly destroys America, bringing the nation to the brink of war and bankruptcy with cronyism, corruption, and incompetence." Wow, talk about nightmares coming true! Who knew Fitzgerald could predict the future--his was satire, ours is not. ...more
4

May 28, 2013

Jazz-Age New York dazzles in this tour through F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s lives and the inspirations behind The Great Gatsby. It’s an essential guide to understanding that master work of “nostalgic glamour: lost hope, lost possibility, lost paradise.”

The best chapters zoom in on Gatsby’s setting, September-December 1922, which also saw the Fitzgeralds’ return to New York from the Midwest. The nation was gripped by the Hall-Mills case, an unsolved double murder that undoubtedly piqued Jazz-Age New York dazzles in this tour through F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s lives and the inspirations behind The Great Gatsby. It’s an essential guide to understanding that master work of “nostalgic glamour: lost hope, lost possibility, lost paradise.”

The best chapters zoom in on Gatsby’s setting, September-December 1922, which also saw the Fitzgeralds’ return to New York from the Midwest. The nation was gripped by the Hall-Mills case, an unsolved double murder that undoubtedly piqued Fitzgerald’s interest and inspired some of Gatsby’s scandalous plot elements. Reminiscent of top-notch true-crime reconstructions like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Paul Collins’s The Murder of the Century, this section seamlessly weaves in documentary evidence.

(See my full review at We Love This Book.) ...more
5

May 03, 2015

If you love "The Great Gatsby" - and what right thinking person doesn’t? - then you will almost certainly love "Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby" by Sarah Churchwell.

Beautifully written, Sarah Churchwell skilfully illuminates the lives and times of Scott and Zelda, and Scott's creative process. A beguiling mix of biography, history, letters, headlines from the era, including the then infamous Hall and Mills murder case, mixed together to create a wonderful If you love "The Great Gatsby" - and what right thinking person doesn’t? - then you will almost certainly love "Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby" by Sarah Churchwell.

Beautifully written, Sarah Churchwell skilfully illuminates the lives and times of Scott and Zelda, and Scott's creative process. A beguiling mix of biography, history, letters, headlines from the era, including the then infamous Hall and Mills murder case, mixed together to create a wonderful insight into a literary masterpiece.

If you enjoyed "The Great Gatsby” and/or are interested in the jazz age this book is essential. ...more
3

Jun 30, 2015

I love The Great Gatsby and have read it many times over the years, so the title of this book grabbed me immediately. I expected from this that the whole book would focus on the composition of 'Gatsby', but this isn't really the case. It's more of a mini-biography of Scott Fitzgerald, confusingly inter-cut with details of a murder case which appears to have little relevance to him or his book.

I think the Hall-Mills case is interesting in its own right, and I'd like to read a book about it, but I love The Great Gatsby and have read it many times over the years, so the title of this book grabbed me immediately. I expected from this that the whole book would focus on the composition of 'Gatsby', but this isn't really the case. It's more of a mini-biography of Scott Fitzgerald, confusingly inter-cut with details of a murder case which appears to have little relevance to him or his book.

I think the Hall-Mills case is interesting in its own right, and I'd like to read a book about it, but to my mind this material doesn't fit in here. Maybe the short chapters about the case should have been put together in a separate appendix? It would be easier for readers to keep track of who's who and what's going on.

Fortunately, though, the rest of the book is much better than the sections about the murder. Churchwell writes beautifully and her enthusiasm for Fitzgerald comes across strongly. I especially like the way that she quotes a lot from Scott and Zelda's letters and diaries, and also from those of their friends and rivals. (I'm now wanting to read Dos Passos and some of the others who get a mention.)

Putting so much in the couple's own words gives a feeling of just how hectic and damaging their Jazz Age lifestyle was. The repetition gets wearing at times, but it expresses how the drinking bouts were repeated, endlessly. She shows how all this fed into Gatsby - and also how the book's reputation grew slowly because some critics assumed that it was just a topical novel and didn't realise its deeper qualities.

The UK Kindle edition includes the text of 'The Great Gatsby', which is a welcome bonus. By the time you finish the book, you want to go back to the original novel one more time. ...more
5

Feb 18, 2019

A brilliant close study on the lives of the Fitzgerald duo, leading up to the composition of The Great Gatsby. The Roaring 1920s saw an explosion of creativity, rebellion, and vocabulary. This book highlights a couple lists of words invented during the decade, the first list containing a volume of crude insults such as "motherfucker," "extrovert," and "nutritionist"; and the second list containing several dozen words describing drunkenness: "blotto," "soused," "plastered," "stinko," "tanked," A brilliant close study on the lives of the Fitzgerald duo, leading up to the composition of The Great Gatsby. The Roaring 1920s saw an explosion of creativity, rebellion, and vocabulary. This book highlights a couple lists of words invented during the decade, the first list containing a volume of crude insults such as "motherfucker," "extrovert," and "nutritionist"; and the second list containing several dozen words describing drunkenness: "blotto," "soused," "plastered," "stinko," "tanked," "squiffy," "have the screaming-meemies," etc.

I refer to the "Fitzgerald duo," indicating F. Scott and his wife Zelda. It's just staggeringly ridiculous how young they were in the early 20s, while she was the most wild and stylish flapper that America had ever seen, and he was penning glorious send-ups of the saturated moneyed classes. (He was 26; she was 22.) However, they "burned with a low blue flame," as the expression went. Hot and deadly.

My only curiosity about this book is why did the author pick a working class murder mystery as a display piece intended to be THE INSPIRATION for Gatsby, when really this book proves that a swirling miasma, a perfect storm of influences, arriving at specific times and dates, all came together for Fitzgerald to write about it. The affair and double murder of a housewife and a minister, while sensational at the time, and to this day unsolved, drags down the momentum.

Fitzgerald was indeed fascinated by the rigors and glass ceilings of societal class separations, and the working class struggle is a loud and sturdy element to his most famous novel. But it just seems like the author wanted any sort of "Big News" that was in the collective culture during those loaded years between 1922-1924. Yes, the double murder may have been on the front page every day for two years, but why do we need to read about it NOW? ...more
4

Jun 25, 2016

This is an interesting read but it's perhaps trying to do too many things at once which serve to detract from, rather than strengthen, its import and impact. Churchwell is writing a biography of the Fitzgeralds, especially during the year of 1922 when the Great Gatsby was set, even though it wasn't written and completed until a few years later. She is also offering interpretations and readings of the novel itself, alongside contextual information on e.g. prohibition, the gangster-crooks who This is an interesting read but it's perhaps trying to do too many things at once which serve to detract from, rather than strengthen, its import and impact. Churchwell is writing a biography of the Fitzgeralds, especially during the year of 1922 when the Great Gatsby was set, even though it wasn't written and completed until a few years later. She is also offering interpretations and readings of the novel itself, alongside contextual information on e.g. prohibition, the gangster-crooks who built America etc. And, as a third and major strand, she excavates an unsolved murder that took place in 1922 and which she rather forces into what remains a tenuous relationship with Fitzgerald's novel.

The narrative itself is fragmented with short sections mimicking the scrapbooks which the Fitzgeralds themselves kept, and the constant switching between the various stories does give this a slightly bitty feel, as if it's written for a presumed hyperactive audience with a short attention span.

That said, this is a lively read which captures the frenetic atmosphere of the 1920s, and the way Fitzgerald himself lived, encapsulated and helped to construct the idea of the Jazz Age. I especially liked the way Churchwell makes extensive use of Fitzgerald's own words from letters, essays and other writings - though her refusal to use footnotes means that it's a little fiddly to trace the sources as we need to go though separate notes sections and then a bibliography.

Churchwell's articulation of the relationship between art and life is nuanced rather than simplistic: this would be a good read for anyone wanting to know more about the fascinating Fitzgeralds, the evolution of The Great Gatsby, and the world which it depicts. ...more
2

Feb 15, 2014

This scholarly book makes intriguing new connections between the people and personalities from Fitzgerald's booze-fuelled milieu and the cast of characters who inhabit his work.

From a time of loose morals and abundant excess there are episodes that, even today, would create scandal. Fitz's wife Zelda strips off in public at the drop of a hat, dances naked on nightclub tables, chases the teenage brother of a party host upstairs for sex - it's outrageous and it’s a tabloid dream.

There's so much This scholarly book makes intriguing new connections between the people and personalities from Fitzgerald's booze-fuelled milieu and the cast of characters who inhabit his work.

From a time of loose morals and abundant excess there are episodes that, even today, would create scandal. Fitz's wife Zelda strips off in public at the drop of a hat, dances naked on nightclub tables, chases the teenage brother of a party host upstairs for sex - it's outrageous and it’s a tabloid dream.

There's so much material from this hedonistic era that the merger between fact and fiction makes a richly entertaining guessing game: Who’s really who in The Great Gatsby?

The list to choose from is delicious. There are the super rich, there are industrialists, studio moguls, celebrities, gangsters, hucksters, bootleggers, wannabee stars, critics writers and all manner of hangers-on.

Never mind that we’ll never know the full truth, the fun is in the inquiry and author Sarah Churchwell brings meticulous research to bear to help us find out.

Where the book falls down is in its structure and a narrative arc that chops and changes between racy revelation, history lesson and professorial critique. If you haven’t studied the book or the period you might struggle – like many of the guests at Fitz’s parties – to make it through to the end.
...more
3

Jun 08, 2013

1\2.

Churchwell's book takes its title from one of The Great Gatsby's Nick Carraway's lines when he referred to his cousin Daisy and her husband, Tom Buchanan, as "careless people". They blithely sail through life, causing disaster right and left and leaving others to pick up the pieces. She alternates discussions about the book Gatsby, the Fitzgeralds, and a popular murder case of 1922, the Hall-Mills murders - a rector and his married lady friend having a lover's tryst. This was apparently a ★★★ 1\2.

Churchwell's book takes its title from one of The Great Gatsby's Nick Carraway's lines when he referred to his cousin Daisy and her husband, Tom Buchanan, as "careless people". They blithely sail through life, causing disaster right and left and leaving others to pick up the pieces. She alternates discussions about the book Gatsby, the Fitzgeralds, and a popular murder case of 1922, the Hall-Mills murders - a rector and his married lady friend having a lover's tryst. This was apparently a great scandal at the time. Took up a lot of space in the papers.

We meet Fitzgerald's circle, most of whom are drinking just as much as he is. I suppose prohibition had that effect on people. A lot of myths about the '20s are dispelled.

So much minutiae, much of which made its way into Gatsby.

1922 was a banner year for literature - Ulysses, The Waste Land, an important collection of poetry from Wallace Stevens. ...more
5

Jan 28, 2014

Churchill takes the lives of F.Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda, the writing of the classic The Great Gatsby and the new Jersey murder that took the nation by storm. For fans of the 1920's and The Great Gatsby . Well written!
4

Mar 31, 2017

I continue to overestimate my enthusiasm for 1920s, most likely due to my SO's fascination with that era. But my enthusiasm for The Great Gatsby is genuine, it is a bonafide great American novel. And not of the jingoistic blindly patriotic variety either, but an intelligent well crafted study of the Emersonian dream of a self made man crash and burn against the carelessness of the blatantly wealthy. Last line of Gatsby...So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the I continue to overestimate my enthusiasm for 1920s, most likely due to my SO's fascination with that era. But my enthusiasm for The Great Gatsby is genuine, it is a bonafide great American novel. And not of the jingoistic blindly patriotic variety either, but an intelligent well crafted study of the Emersonian dream of a self made man crash and burn against the carelessness of the blatantly wealthy. Last line of Gatsby...So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Has there ever been a more perfect, more elegant phrase to summarize the Sisyphean frustrations of life. And then in this and some of his other works, Fitzgerald quite prophetically predicted the detrimental effects of the financial disparities to the very fabric of society and the souls of its individuals. And so this is a book about a book, a biography of a book if you will. Meticulously researched (and I mean meticulously, years of work and enough side notes, bibliography, etc. to take up nearly a third of the volume) and exceptionally well written it follows The Great Gatsby from its inception to its reviews. Much more than that, it's also a biographical account of the Fitzgeralds themselves, the golden couple of the 1920s, auspicious beginnings to terrible endings. Scott and Zelda burned their candles at both ends and relentlessly so, completely unsupportable existence...but what a story. All the glamour, all the talent and never enough to hold the darkness at bay. You'd think all this would be enough for a book, but Churchwell goes further drawing parallels between the real life murder case of 1922 and The Great Gatsby. There doesn't appear to be much conclusive evidence that Fitzgerald was inspired by the case, though he did follow it in the news and the creative mind works miracles with information it receives. In fact this duality seems unnecessary and distracting, unless either for structural purposes or used to highlight the wild scandalous sexy messiness of the time. Historically and literally the golden age, the bygone 20s are fascinating, this novels takes the readers behind the outwardly glamorous curtain into the actual tragedy of lives lived too fast, too drunkenly, too carelessly. Well written, edifying, with plenty of images included to serve as visual aid, this was all you can hope for in nonfiction. Or fiction, really. ...more
1

Apr 20, 2019

DNF - I really wanted to like this book as it’s an exploration of one of my favorite novels. After slogging through half of it by picking it up in fits and starts, I’m calling it quits. It’s like reading a really long college English paper that recounts the facts in the most styleless way. The reporting is so observational and far removed from any emotion that it bored me silly. I wanted to be drawn in, but I’m letting myself off the hook.
4

Oct 29, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

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 F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

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.
...more
4

Nov 22, 2013

3.75 stars. Overall a fairly decent look into the Jazz Age and the works and life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book is well researched, with the social and historical implications of the period covered in interesting detail.

This book is also a work of literary criticism, and as such reviews of his books, symbols and themes are given meaning beyond mere words. However, the meanings are up for criticism, depending on your skill with symbology (I'm a dunce there) and your awareness of Fitzgerald's 3.75 stars. Overall a fairly decent look into the Jazz Age and the works and life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book is well researched, with the social and historical implications of the period covered in interesting detail.

This book is also a work of literary criticism, and as such reviews of his books, symbols and themes are given meaning beyond mere words. However, the meanings are up for criticism, depending on your skill with symbology (I'm a dunce there) and your awareness of Fitzgerald's life and habits.

Where the book fails is the tenuous connection written through the pages between Fitz, the Great Gatsby and the murder case. If there is a connection between the author and the murder, strong proof was not provided in the pages. It was unnecessary and you could really just pass over the murder case sections and find yourself with this amazing book about fascinating characters. This book would have been a 5 without the randomness of an unsolved murder case thrown in, which I'm guessing was done in order to spice up the story.

This was an uncorrected proof and there are edits that need to be completed in order to turn out a coherent finished product, but I would still recommend this book to those who are interested in Fitzgerald and/or his writing, the Jazz Age, and literary criticism.

(I was a Goodreads first reads winner) ...more
4

Oct 21, 2013

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were a fascinating couple, and the nineteen-twenties a fascinating time. This book really brought to life the spirit of the world in which they were living and the ways in which their lives mirrored the exhilaration and the tragedy of Jay Gatsby's story. The book appears to be very well-researched with regard to the Fitzgeralds and The Great Gatsby, providing many excerpts from letters and journals that helped to make the subjects feel very real. At times, however, I Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were a fascinating couple, and the nineteen-twenties a fascinating time. This book really brought to life the spirit of the world in which they were living and the ways in which their lives mirrored the exhilaration and the tragedy of Jay Gatsby's story. The book appears to be very well-researched with regard to the Fitzgeralds and The Great Gatsby, providing many excerpts from letters and journals that helped to make the subjects feel very real. At times, however, I felt there was too much detail on the specific parties they threw or attended, who was there, and who said what to whom. The story of Scott and Zelda's lives is presented in parallel to the story of an unsolved murder from 1922. This part left me somewhat dissatisfied, as the murder occupied a much smaller share of the book and was presented in much less detail. I didn't feel the parallels, if they existed, were drawn strongly enough to warrant these two stories being contained in one book. As a book on the Fitzgeralds, however, this is one well worth reading, and one which has left me wanting to read more about and by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This review refers to an ARC I received for free through the Goodreads First Reads program. ...more

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