Salome Magazine
covenant dance chamber archives gatekeeper
LAce Posted Monday, July 3rd, 2006
I was Zelda Fitzgerald
Jessica Taylor

If you are like me, this summer may be the last chance you have to read fiction until the holiday season. Now that’s a lot of pressure. Not surprisingly, I had difficulty locating that that gem of escape that would be worth my limited leisure time.

I paced the library, pored over my bookshelves, and even started a number of books only to conclude, “This isn’t the one.” Dear reader, you can imagine my surprise when I waltzed into Barnes and Noble several weeks ago and found the book right there on the front table. (I should note that I rarely set foot into B&N, nor do I ever find the book of my dreams on the front table.)

But there it was…Light green like a quince and peppered with dun-colored doves, in the center a refined woman with cobalt high heels and a flapper haircut — it was Gatsby’s Girl by Caroline Preston.

Gatsby? Did you say Gatsby? As in The Great Gatsby? Instantly I was transported to high school, where leisure time was plentiful. My direst responsibility in summertime was plowing through a reading list of American classics – and tolerating the company of a new set of friends created between the pages.

The book jacket promised a story about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first love. The one he pined after even while he was married to Zelda. The one who inspired Daisy Buchanan. This was better than the perfect book to read. This was the book that I should have written. Along the lines of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which examines Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway through a prism, Gatsby’s Girl weaves a story around Fitzgerald’s most celebrated novel. The glamorous and torrid era of Gatsby has always spoken to me. Without revealing too much about myself, I will admit that I've even considered whether I am Zelda Fitzgerald reincarnated. I would wish it just to have attended some of those parties – even if I had to spend my final years in the sanatorium!

Now here’s where the discovery gets strange. I peek at the back cover only to recognize the author photo. I know her. I’ve been to her house. What a rush. She wrote the book of my destiny. Shamelessly, I decide to purchase the gift for Father’s Day, since technically Caroline Preston is the wife of a former professor of my husband’s. I mean, it has been ages since I’ve paid full price for a hard cover book.

When I get home, I’m too excited to hold the gift for Father’s Day. I immediately reveal the entire story to my husband and then curl up in bed with the book. Okay, it was a poor disguise at a Father’s Day gift. He knew it. I knew it.

Though the reviews on Amazon are lukewarm, this novel is terribly amusing and at some moments entirely captivating. True, Caroline Preston’s narrator, Ginevra Perry, is largely unsympathetic, but isn’t it refreshing to laugh at a heartless and vain little rich girl from time to time? This is the story of the woman who carelessly broke F. Scott Fitzgerald’s heart and then was forced to reflect on that decision years later when he is blessed with fame and fortune. You can’t tell me that you don’t have an ex somewhere out there who may just share Ginevra Perry’s fate when you become devastatingly rich and famous!

For me, the most captivating moments of the book were not the exchanges between Scott and Ginevra, but rather Ginevra's moments of reflection: her lively musings on boarding school, her aesthetic life on a military base as a disappointed newlywed. Caroline Preston's knack for humor is apparent in scenes such as the one where Ginevra's nanny has the afternoon off and she takes her infant son to the bookstore to purchase This Side of Paradise:

When I got home, I put Will-Bill in his crib with a bottle. He sucked it languorously, tugging at one sock, until his eyelids blinked heavily and closed. Eileen strictly forbade me to let Will have an afternoon bottle and nap – she said it threw of his schedule and spoiled his appetite for dinner. Well, he seemed happy, and I needed a moment to myself. I’d just have to stand up to Eileen for once.

I made myself a proper cocktail, a whiskey and soda, because it was almost five o’clock…I propped myself on the window seat so I could see the sun set over the lake, the book balanced on my knees. (p.159)

The truth is, sometimes I feel about as maternal as Ginevra Perry.

Another memorable moment occurs much later in Ginevra’s life when, at Fitzgerald’s request, she accompanies a sick Zelda to the Chicago World Fair. This surreal scene actually happened in real life. Imagine spending the afternoon with your ex’s spouse! Here, Preston demonstrates the baby steps that Ginevra has taken towards becoming a more mature and compassionate figure. The plot unfolds for the most part as you’d expect. Ginevra’s unhappy marriage plays out in a family drama complete with a young lover, a troubled son, and a love-child.

Caroline Preston’s writing is crisp and creative, and never over-flowery. But her real talent is research – of the period and the perfect incidental details that accompany each scene, from the drapes in Ginevra’s apartment to her custom-tailored dresses. For me, this portrait of the turbulent life of a Chicago debutante was just enough to feed my imagination of what it must have been like for me in my former life, as Zelda.

If Gatsby's Girl is not your book of choice this summer, I wish you luck with your hunt. And whatever your perfect summer book turns out to be, be sure to enjoy it with a cup of strong tea, a fragrant candle, and some fresh mountain air.

Related Links:

  • Gatsby's Girl

    Comments [post a comment]

    Posted by Nonnie Augustine on Monday, July 3rd, 2006 at 12:32 PM
    I enjoyed this, Jessica. I suspect there is a link between the tone of your review, and Ms. Perry's own voice. The confession regarding your father's day gift is funny, and I appreciate that you mention research. Period works are among my favorites if they are done well. Nice going-Nonnie

    Posted by jocelyn johnson on Saturday, July 8th, 2006 at 8:02 PM
    you've inspired me off to find the perfect summer book, jessica!

    Posted by jocelyn johnson on Saturday, July 8th, 2006 at 8:03 PM
    you've inspired me off to find the perfect summer book, jessica!

  • © Copyright 2002 Salome Magazine. All rights reserved. email gatekeeper