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 Borgé 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 first love, 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.