A snappy, anecdotal tale of the writerly Jazz Age ladies—Fitzgerald, Millay, Parker, and Ferber—and the men who adored them.
Hard to believe there's anything new to learn about the celebrated writers in the tap-happy ’20s, but veteran celebrity biographer Meade (The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, 2000, etc.), her eye ever on the swinging detail, manages to scrounge a fresh tidbit as she traces the erratic intersection of her characters from year to year over the decade. Dorothy “Dottie” Parker is her favorite protagonist, fired from her job at Vanity Fair at age 26 in 1920 to embark on a celebrated, albeit hard-won trajectory as critic, short-story writer, and, eventually, novelist, as she struggles personally over the years with her first disintegrating marriage, alcoholism, and tendency toward suicidal depression. Edna St. Vincent Millay, called “Vincent” throughout, takes no prisoners in her amatory swath of Greenwich Village, where she conquers Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, among others, while trying to create a writer's life away from her two meddling sisters and mother. By 1923, Vincent has won the Pulitzer (still rare for a woman) for her Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, and eventually switches gears to settle down in the Berkshires with her Dutch businessman husband. Alabama belle Zelda Sayre, meanwhile, marries Scott Fitzgerald at age 19 in St. Patrick's Cathedral, intent on a wild public spectacle of flapperhood with the publication of This Side of Paradise. Meade's Zelda, however, is no shrinking violet: a muse to her husband (who regularly appropriates her diary entries and ideas), she develops discipline and ambition in ballet and story-writing to supplement the family income. Meanwhile, Edna Ferber, who, like Parker, is a favorite of the Algonquin Round Table, appears all too sketchily here, as the towering proto-feminist, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter who did it all on her own—a marvelous study of brains, ambition, and hobnobbing. Overall, Meade supplies plenty of unsavory superfluity among the well-worn facts (abortions, sad marriages, boozy cutups), and even some recipes for Prohibition cocktails.
Largely apocryphal and hardly scholarly, but a lot of fun.