Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s whirlwind life is legendary. She was the It Girl of the 1920s; he was the brilliant writer¹ who burst onto the literary scene with This Side of Paradise and later produced The Great Gatsby. In Therese Anne Fowler’s fictionalized account, however, readers meet Zelda Sayre when she’s seventeen and still living at home with her parents in Montgomery, Alabama.
She meets Scott at a local dance. He’s an army lieutenant with grand literary aspirations. Zelda is taken with him, but her pragmatic father is unimpressed. The two fall in love, and after a long-distance courtship, Scott sells his first novel — a sign that he can provide a living for a wife as an author — and Zelda is off to New York to marry him in St. Peter’s Cathedral. The rest is history: he’s a best-selling and in-demand author, and Zelda plays her role as a fashionable scenester with gusto. Hollywood comes calling, and the two are ready to take on the world.
They bite off more than they can chew, living way beyond their means once the royalties from Scott’s first book start to dry up. Scott is under pressure to produce his next novel and he’s frozen with writer’s block. He tries to sell short stories, and though that does bring in some income, it’s not enough to keep them afloat. He needs a new novel.
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel
Publisher/Year: Riverhead, 2013
What it is: A collection of eleven strange short stories related to the cycle of life. The stories are organized into four themes: birth, gestation, conception, and love.
Why I read it: Ausubel has been on my radar for a while now; I’m still dying to read her first book, No One Is Here Except All of Us. Since I’m a fan of short stories (especially weird ones), I wanted to give this a try.
What I thought: This was an uneven collection for me, but there’s no denying that Ausubel is an amazing writer. Many of the stories have elements of magical realism, but even the ones that don’t have something strange in them. Either way, they all illustrate various elements of human nature in unexpected ways. Some of my favorites were “Poppyseed,” about a couple who decides to subject their mentally disabled eight-year-old daughter to a hysterectomy (probably the most twisted story in the collection, but also the one with the most haunting impact on me); “Atria,” story with fantastical elements about a teen who claims she got pregnant as the result of a made-up rape rather than a one-time fling; and “Tributaries,” about a community of people who grow an extra arm every time they fall in love.
Would appeal to: Aimee Bender & Miranda July fans.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher/Year: Scribner, 2003 (Originally published in 1925)
What it is: Nick Carraway moves into a modest little house along the Long Island Sound for the summer and gets drawn in by his mysterious next-door neighbor, a self-made millionaire named Jay Gatsby who’s known for his lavish parties. Meanwhile, Gatsby is madly in love with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan; the two have a history together. Daisy is already married, but Gatsby hopes his newfound wealth and dazzling success will be enough to win her back.
Why I read it: It’s been on my shelves forever and I never had to read it in high school, making me feel like one of the few people on Earth who had never read the book. Basically, I wanted to get to it before I saw Luhrmann’s movie.
What I thought: Meh. I know this is terrible, but this is one of those rare occasions where I liked the movie better (and why not dig myself deeper: I also think the cover is fugly). I know it’s a classic, plus green light symbolism and contemporarily-relevant themes and blah blah blah, but…*shrug*.
If you’re a fan, you might also like: The Great Lenore by J.M. Tohline, which draws inspiration from The Great Gatsby. I read it last year before having read Gatsby, and in retrospect, I appreciate elements of The Great Lenore much more now that I have a better frame of reference for it. (Also in retrospect? I like Lenore more than Gatsby. So there.)