Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby (Hardcover)
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 investigationwhich 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.
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.
Praise for Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby…
Kirkus Reviews (starred):
"Churchwell... has written an excellent book... she even manages to find fresh facts that escaped previous scholars... At times, Churchwell attempts Fitzgerald’s lyrical style—one chapter-ending sentence alludes to “the vagrant dead as they scatter across our tattered Eden”—she’s earned the right to play on his court. Prodigious research and fierce affection illumine every remarkable page.”
“[Sarah Churchwell] evokes the Jazz Age in all its ephemeral glamour and recklessness in her latest book….She excels at providing rich period details….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.”
The London Review of Books:
“Churchwell brings… a lively curiosity, a gift for making connections, and an infectious passion for Fitzgerald and his greatest novel…. A suggestive, almost musical evocation of the spirit of the time.”
The New Statesman:
“The first readers of The Great Gatsby thought it was all about themselves, a book of the moment. Today, we tend to admire its enduring mythology of aspiration and undoing. Churchwell brilliantly brings these two perspectives together as she holds in counterpoint the sprawling stuff of Fitzgerald’s daily life and the gleamingly taut prose poem that emerged from it… Fitzgerald offered the year 1922 as the chief exhibit when he tried to explain the meaning of the jazz age. It is an exhibit worth looking at very carefully. Careless People does so with a mixture of patience and panache and it would take a long time to get bored of that particular cocktail.”
“The wonder of Careless People ... is that it rewinds the years and allows the reader to appreciate again just how well Fitzgerald reflected his times.”
"A literary spree, bursting with recherché detail, high spirits and the desperate frisson of the jazz age."
"A treasury of new material. Churchwell adds considerably to our understanding of the early 1920s, and how life for Fitzgerald played into the development of his art."