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Gatsby's Girl

Gatsby's Girl

4.6 5
by Caroline Preston

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Before he wrote some of the twentieth century's greatest fiction, before he married Zelda, F. Scott Fitzgerald loved Ginevra, a fickle young Chicago socialite he met during the winter break from Princeton. But Ginevra threw over the soon-to-be-famous novelist, and the rest is literary history. Ginevra would be the model for many of Fitzgerald's coolly fascinating


Before he wrote some of the twentieth century's greatest fiction, before he married Zelda, F. Scott Fitzgerald loved Ginevra, a fickle young Chicago socialite he met during the winter break from Princeton. But Ginevra threw over the soon-to-be-famous novelist, and the rest is literary history. Ginevra would be the model for many of Fitzgerald's coolly fascinating but unattainable heroines, including the elusive object of Jay Gatsby's unrequited love, Daisy Buchanan.

In this captivating and moving novel, Caroline Preston imagines what life might have been like for Fitzgerald's first love, following Ginevra from her gilded youth as the daughter of a tycoon through disillusioned marriage and motherhood. An engrossing fictional portrait, Gatsby's Girl deftly explores the relationship between a famous author and his muse.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Compelling and perfectly evoked....This is a wonderful book."—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife

"Gatsby's Girl is an extraordinary book, as elegaic and evocative as much of Fitzgerald's own work."—Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland, Paradise Alley and Strivers Row

"Fascinating...tantalizing...An entirely pleasurable tour-de-force."—Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot's Wife

"Though this is a work of fiction, it should be read by anyone interested in Fitzgerald's work."—Sarah E. White Bookpage

"A wonderfully elegiac novel that evokes the tenor and times of the 'Lost Generation' . . . marvelous."—Dorman T. Shindler The Denver Post

"Compelling . . . a sad, beautiful, erotically charged picture."—Dana Kletter The San Francisco Chronicle

"A fascinating rendering of the tragedy that was Fitzgerald's life...Highly recommended." Library Journal Starred

"Imaginative reconstruction . . . Thoroughly researched and persuasively written, this novel rings true."—Barbara Fisher Boston Globe

Publishers Weekly
Inspired by the ephemeral but intense historical romance between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his first love, Chicago debutante Ginevra King, Preston bases her sexy, self-centered title character both on Fitzgerald's crush and the female characters (Daisy Buchanan, etc.) for which she was his muse. Ginevra Perry is the spoiled 16-year-old expert flirt who catches Scott Fitzgerald's fancy in 1916 in this gracefully written if drifting novel. The first part of the book excerpts the earnest, epistolary romance between the Lake Forest, Ill., society girl and her less prosperous suitor while she's at boarding school in Connecticut and he's at Princeton. Fickle Ginevra ditches Scott for handsome but dull aviator Billy Granger, with whom she is doomed to a "dried-out husk" of a marriage, but privately continues to keep tabs on Scott while reading his novels for signs of herself in his female characters. This novel, which Ginevra narrates in a mannered, period voice, follows her into her late 30s and strives to echo the sense of loss and promise gone wrong found in Fitzgerald's books. Preston (Jackie by Josie) launches the story from a clever conceit, but the narrator's lack of self-reflection and the gentle arc of her cushioned if not always happy life make for a listless read. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1916, pretty 15-year-old Ginevra Perry is the spectacularly self-absorbed daughter of wealthy Lake Forest, IL, parents. After a series of scandalous romances that culminate in a shocking broken engagement to some hapless soul, she meets Princeton sophomore F. Scott Fitzgerald. They begin an intense, mostly epistolary romance that, for Ginevra, flames out by summer. Alas, Fitzgerald, already in the throes of messy public alcoholism, never quite recovers from this first all-consuming love. He embarks on a decades-long quest to immortalize Ginevra over and over again in such iconic Fitzgerald characters as Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby), Isabelle Borge (This Side of Paradise), and Josephine Perry (The Basil and Josephine Stories). Using as her framework the little-known real life of Ginevra King, former archivist Preston employs immaculate research and a rich imagination to flesh out what might have happened. Even as her unshakable solipsism detonates the lives of those close to her, the fictional Ginevra tracks her progress through Fitzgerald's novels. A fascinating rendering of the tragedy that was Fitzgerald's life and of the young woman who was the catalyst for so much of his glorious body of work. Highly recommended.-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor District Lib., MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A wealthy man's daughter breaks young F. Scott Fitzgerald's heart and inspires the literature that defined a generation. In 1915, a late-night kiss during a bobsled ride fuels a semester's worth of torrid correspondence between Ginevra Perry, a boarder at the Westover School in Connecticut, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, a sophomore at Princeton. Once she is home in Lake Forest for the summer, however, Scott's letters lose her interest, and his late August visit to her parent's Italianate mansion is disastrous. Ginevra, whose favor has settled elsewhere, unceremoniously dumps Scott and marries Billy Granger, a dashing flyboy from her social set. After WWI, they move to Chicago and take their place in society. A few years later, Ginevra, unhappily pregnant with her second child and bored, reads an article about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his glamorous wife, Zelda. Ginevra scours Scott's fiction and finds herself in many of his cold, shallow debutantes: Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise, the Josephine Perry stories and, most famously, in Daisy Buchanan, the love of Jay Gatsby's life. Keeping abreast of Scott and Zelda becomes Ginevra's shadow life. She even travels to Paris in the hope of running into them, only to learn from Sylvia Beach that they have decamped to the south of France. Meanwhile, Ginevra's marriage unravels and her son's mental instability goes unnoticed. Eventually, a series of impulsive acts leads to a scandal and divorce. In 1936, Ginevra finds herself living in a one-bedroom apartment with a two-burner hotplate-once again mirroring Scott's work (he has just published The Crack-Up). Preston (Jackie by Josie, 1997 etc.) bases her character on Fitzgerald's real-life firstlove, Ginevra King, who was the prototype for many of the rich girls Fitzgerald's "poor boy" characters shouldn't marry. The story is engaging as far as it goes, but such rich material cries out for greater narrative risks.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Scott Fitzgerald’s daughter called long distance, out of the blue. Her voice sounded apologetic, as if she was afraid I wouldn’t remember who he was. She explained that she had had no idea how to get in touch with me. She decided to give the number in his old telephone book a try, even though Scott had been dead for ten years. “I can’t believe you’re still in the same place, Mrs. Granger.” That made me sit down, hard, on the hall bench. Scott had bounced around from St. Paul to New York to Paris to Baltimore to Hollywood, and here I was, still in the same house where he’d come for a visit, back in 1916. “I’m not Mrs. Granger anymore,” I said. “Now I’m Mrs. John Pullman.” At least that part had changed.
She told me her name had changed too, to Scottie Lanahan, and she lived on a farm in Chevy Chase. Judging from all the racket in the background, she had a couple of small children and a dog. “My father always used to talk about you. He said you were the first girl he ever loved.” “I’m afraid I wasn’t very nice to him,” I said lightly, as if I hadn’t had years of regrets about the way I treated Scott.
“He said you threw him over without a second thought.” She let out a merry little laugh, as if she didn’t take any of her father’s heartbreaks too seriously.“ Anyway, that’s why I’m calling. I’m sorting through Daddy’s papers to give to the library at Princeton, and I found something I know he would want you to have.” “What?” I asked, thinking maybe it was one of my letters, even though he was supposed have destroyed them all.
“Let’s just say it’s something unusual. You’ll have to see for yourself,” she said in a teasing way. It reminded me of the game Scott used on girls at parties. “I’m thinking of two words that describe you,” he’d say, “can you guess?” “I’m going to be in Chicago next week and I was hoping I could give it to you in person. I’ve always wanted to meet you.” I tried to think of someplace cheerful and uncomplicated to meet, in case Scottie was prone to cocktails and mournful moods like her father. “How about the Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s? You’ll be my guest, of course. The Welsh rarebit is famous.” “My favorite.” There was a huge clatter in the background, like a stack of pots and pans falling off a top shelf.
“Uh-oh,” said a small voice.
“Better go,” Scottie said. “See you next week. At the Walnut Room. I want to hear all about you and Daddy. Your version.” I hung up the phone and studied the front hallway, trying to remember what it had looked like that summer Scott visited. The house was brand new then and still had all the fripperies my father had insisted Mr. Shaw include. The iron balusters had been gold-leafed, the black-and-white marble tiles were hard-waxed and buffed once a week by Mrs. Coates, the privet by the front door was clipped into poodle balls. Daddy had bought a second-rate salon portrait at auction to hang in the stairwell—three sons of some unknown Austrian aristocrat, dressed in ostrich feathers and satin pantaloons, with oddly enlarged heads.
My image of Scott when he’d stepped through the front door came in disconnected fragments. His white linen suit was rumpled across the back, and his collar had a ring of grime from the long train ride. His hair was bright blond, like a Dutch boy’s. The chin and nose were strong, but hadn’t firmed up into the famous profile yet. He dropped his battered suitcase on the marble floor with a bang and surveyed the hallway as if it were a cathedral—first staring up at the ceiling and then rotating slowly to take it all in. Then his girlish mouth pulled back into a tight grin, as if he was trying not to laugh. Even though Scott’s family lived in a rented flat in St. Paul, he could see that an Italianate villa smack-dab in the middle of the prairie was pretentious. Later, after he’d had a couple of my father’s gin and tonics, he announced that Lake Forest consisted of nothing more than the palaces of meatpackers.
I could remember Scott’s letters more clearly than his face, which wasn’t surprising. I saw Scott only a few times, but there had been dozens and dozens of letters. Each sheet stamped with the Princeton seal, the letters so thick that the envelopes bloated like a puffer fish and needed extra stamps. For a while, I found one every day in my wooden mail cubby at Westover. The letters seemed clever at first, filled with the flattery and clippings of his latest in the Tiger Lit.—he was the only boy I’d ever met who fancied himself a “writer.” But then he came for a visit to Lake Forest, and under Daddy’s judgmental gaze, Scott and his avalanche of love letters began to seem foolish, tiresome. And I’d met someone more dashing, at least in my sixtteen-year-old opinion—Billy Granger.
The subject of Scott’s letters was bound to come up when I had lunch with Scottie, and I’d have to admmmmmit the truth. That a week after Scott’s visit in August 1916, I’d gathered his letters into a heavy, wobbly stack, carried them down the back stairs, and dumped them in the trash can outside the kitchen door. I could still see the cream envelopes with the black- and-orange crest landing on a mound of coffee grounds and eggshells. My excuses would sound lame. He asked me to destroy his letters, said he was afraid I’d use them as “incriminating evidence,” which was such nonsense. How could I have ever guessed that the Princeton boy who wrote silly songs and poems would turn into a famous author?
Scottie had probably read the description of our meeting in This Side of Paradise: She paused at the top of the staircase, like a diver on a springboard or a leading lady on opening night—something like that. So typical of Scott, to take a punch party at a shabby country club and fill it with flickering lamplight and romantic interludes. To take a stuck-up pre-debutante and turn her into a noble creature capable of deep feelings.
I wondered what memento of our romance Scottie had found in her father’s papers—a clipping about the party at the Town and Country Club in the St. Paul paper, a ticket stub for Nobody Home, the sash from the Hawaiian costume I’d worn the night I broke it off with him? I had my own secret collection of mementos about Scott, hidden away on the back shelf of a cedar closet behind a pile of unused evening bags. But I wouldn’t share those with anyone—not his daughter, and certainly not the Princeton library.
I would tell Scottie my version of F. Scott Fitzgerald, without the moonlight.
The story began in the dormitory of Westover School, second floor, last door on the left. I could see myself then, a girl strolling jauntily down a long, dim hallway, her high heels clacking on the bare wood floor, a pale blue moiré jacket slung over one shoulder like a college boy. I was two months shy of my sixteenth birthday and stood a pinch below five foot four. I had been told I was pretty far too often for my own good, but my only unusual features were a thick coil of dark hair and large, doe-brown eyes that could turn wistful. Dramatic coloring was my claim to fame back in the days when girls weren’t allowed to wear rouge or lipstick.
I was still bristling from the injustice of my father’s words as he put me on the train. He’d said that Westover was my final chance to prove my character and warned me not to dilly-dally at Grand Central or I’d miss my connection to Middlebury.
I do have a good character, I fumed. I am good on the inside, and I never say things I know aren’t true. Sometimes I’m too emotional and don’t think things through, but why is that such a character flaw? But I had dawdled for a few minutes, to have some cinnamon toast in a real English teashop with organdy curtains and to window shop, and missed my connection. I caught the next one, but I was three hours late.

Copyright © 2006 by Caroline Preston. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Meet the Author

CAROLINE PRESTON is a graduate of Dartmouth College and earned her master’s degree in American civilization at Brown University. She has worked as a manuscript librarian, both at the Houghton Library at Harvard and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. She is the author of two previous novels, Jackie by Josie (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year) and Lucy Crocker 2.0. She is married to the writer Christopher Tilghman, and they live with their three sons in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Gatsby's Girl 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Caroline Preston has produced an engaging read a story well told. Imaginative and well researched, the novel is based on the real life of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first love, Ginevra King, a daughter of plutocratic Lake Forest, Illinois, who 'threw him over' and became the inspiration for a range of characters in his novels, most notably the vain Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Through extraordinarily well developed characters, the author captures deftly the light-years contrast in gender roles and social sensibilities between Fitzgerald's era and today. The evocative attention to period detail envelops in shades of amber. And, as does Fitzgerald in Gatsby, Preston visits with success the themes of the decline of the American Dream, cynicism, moral corruption, materialism, upper class hollowness, but most importantly, the notion of the undeserved idealized perfection that Gatsby attributes to Daisy, inspired by Fitzgerald's reality-blind feelings for Ginevra King. Notable, however, is that the novel allows an imaginary opportunity for the reader to explore what happens in later life to a Daisy Buchanan. Is redemption in the cards? Perhaps not, but an age and experience induced softening of the hard edges produces a believable and satisfying evolution for this literary archetype. My advice: read it. It's a good one.
Anonymous 6 months ago
&mic &dog &chess &hot
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very engaging! I could not put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I usually have trouble finishing almost every book that I start...just ask anyone in my book club! However, from the moment I picked up Gatsby's Girl I could not put it down. The characters are so engaging that you feel as if you are a part of their lives. Preston does a fantastic job of describing Chicago and Lake Forest...you are easily taken back to the early & mid-1900s, yet at the same time you feel as if it could all be happening today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And the author already had a dsyfuntional life and wife and unhappy alcoholic life and wife without adding another to the large list of friends and spouses of the literary lost generation. only for the historical 1920s junkie skip the depression some did manage to make it through the 40s forever referring back to who ever they manged to meet or remember seeing in paris. one unhappy poor rich girl is like all the rest a bore