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by Sally Koslow

Pub Date: May 29th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-06-269676-2
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Gossip columnist Sheilah Graham’s side of her less-than-paradisiacal love affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald during the last three years of his life.

Koslow’s portrayal begins with Sheilah’s refusing to accept the fact that Scott has just died. Flashbacks form the rest of the novel, narrated by Sheilah. Born to a poor Jewish family in London, Sheilah (nee Lily Shiel) is consigned to an orphanage by a mother unable to care for her, but she eventually attains enough respectability to attract upper-class suitors. She marries the much older John Graham Gillam, who is more mentor than husband—they will divorce amicably—and with his blessing achieves a measure of acclaim on the London stage before journeying to America to pursue a career in journalism. Her penchant for fluff pieces lends itself perfectly to gossip, and soon Sheilah’s in Hollywood, challenging Louella Parsons and Hedda Hoper. The story of Sheilah and Scott’s instant chemistry and their on-again, off-again, but always intense liaison is told with taste and sympathy for these deeply flawed characters: Scott, whose best intentions are always derailed by his frequent tumbles off the wagon, and Sheilah, who grows increasingly weary of concealing her déclassé origins, real name, and Jewishness. She’s not entirely reassured when Scott points out that most of Hollywood’s movie moguls are Jewish and that the majority of movie stars have what he refers to as a “nom de guerre.” As Scott tries to improve on Sheilah’s education with a Western canon reading list, she acts as his personal manager, remediating the chaotic aftermath of his drinking bouts. Scott's bad luck as a screenwriter is entertainingly depicted as he's fired from such iconic films as Gone with the Wind (despite Sheilah’s help with visualizing the character of Scarlett) and The Women. Koslow’s writing is vibrant and colorful, and the denizens of Scott’s world are ably summed up in a few pithy swipes: “In 1935, Dorothy [Parker] was a wicked, eyelash-batting pixie willing to catapult into any conversation.”

A stylish reiteration of a sad, oft-told tale.