Another sensitive fictional portrait of a complicated marriage from the author of Tigers in Red Weather (2012).
This time Klaussmann has real-life models: Gerald and Sara Murphy, whose 1920s golden years on the French Riviera inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night. Her novel begins with Gerald’s loveless childhood in 1890s Manhattan; a harrowing chapter about the loss of his adored dog lays the groundwork for his bond with Sara, first seen as a bored post-debutante in pre–World War I London. Their early love is touchingly depicted as shared desire for a life “entirely of our own creation,” which is what they achieve at the eponymous Cap d’Antibes villa. Klaussmann makes good use of several fine biographies of the Murphys (cited in an author’s note) to capture the magic of a privileged, bohemian existence dedicated to the pleasures of fine food and drink, friendship, and self-expression through the elegant, idiosyncratic clothes they wear and their beautiful home furnishings. She also draws on nonfictional references to Gerald’s ambiguous sexuality to imagine a passionate affair with pilot Owen Chambers, an invented character. Down-to-earth Owen offers a reality check on the nonstop house parties with famous friends (Scott and Zelda, Ernest, Cole, and many more of the usual Lost Generation suspects): “The spectacle and the costumes…the endless conversations about ideas, and the misunderstandings. Could you live without that?” Owen asks. Probably not; Gerald remains devoted to Sara (who knows more than she will admit about him and Owen) and the world they’ve fashioned. Their son Patrick’s struggle with tuberculosis brings an end to the halcyon days at Villa America. A welter of letters chronicling the Murphys’ ordeal slightly blurs the novel’s focus in later chapters but also testifies to the profound, enduring affection they prompted in all who knew them. A closing vignette poignantly revisits the couple in the heyday of their campaign to make life as beautiful as their dreams.
Beautifully written and surprisingly fresh given the well-worn subject matter.