Book Review: The Gatsby Affair by Kendall Taylor

Gatsby
Reviewed by Aaron Sommers

The Gatsby Affair: Scott, Zelda, and the Betrayal that Shaped an American Classic

 

by Kendall Taylor

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (August 8, 2018)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1538104938

 

“I’m rarely wrong in matters of narration, “ -F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1936.

Fitzgerald’s self-assessment is both generous and accurate. But despite a meteoric debut novel and a prodigious volume of short stories, his torrid personal life continues to fascinate the American public as much as—and in some cases, more than—his fiction ever did.

His courtship and marriage to Zelda Sayre in 1920, the year the manuscript of This Side of Paradise was accepted for publication, has been well-documented by scholars and gossip columnists alike. The couple’s private struggles became public fodder during the Jazz Age, and their subsequent descent into ruin has been a treasure trove for academics, readers and commentators since Fitzgerald’s untimely death in 1941.

 Fulbright scholar and cultural historian Kimball Taylor judiciously pours through a variety of letters, stories and interviews in The Gatsby Affair, but she avoids any unnecessary commentary. Her interest here is clear: the 1924, when the Fitzgerald’s sojourned to the French Riviera. Upon their arrival in June, the author secludes himself and adheres to a strict writing schedule, toiling on his then-untitled novel, forbidding any interruptions or—per his policy—sexual intercourse. The two initially quarrel over the arrangements, but Zelda gradually respects the conditions necessary for her husbands’ work. Still, the arrangement proves lonely for her. Perpetually restless and curious, she explores the seaside, practices her French in local bistros during the day, and dances in the casinos at night.

Enter a French aviator named Eduardo Jozan, a man Kimball describes as, “square-jawed, athletic and muscular,” who catches the eye of Zelda. The two strike up a friendship and meet regularly in public.  Rumors swirl and accusations fly until the Fitzgeralds pack up and leave for New York City at the end of the summer. The friendship—be it platonic, romantic or otherwise—was certainly a source of tension for Fitzgerald, and whether or not it is consummated is a question dwarfed by the enormity of his jealousy and doubt.

 It’s easy for us to see parallels between Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan and the real-life Jozan. Both oozed machismo—a trait Fitzgerald found fascinating and repellant—and both were uneducated opportunists. They stood as direct contrasts to the fragile, sensitive, poetic disposition Fitzgerald embodied and—at varying times in his life—often resented. 

Kimball makes a good case for the tension this episode placed on an already strained marriage. Zelda is at once enchanting, intense and domineering, while her husband is forever mercurial and distant. Fueled by alcohol and a need for attention, the couples exploits are well-known, however,  little is made of the fact that ten years later, the two not only remained married, but profounder in love.

Fitzgerald’s quote above pertains to a story Zelda sent him during her stay at a psychiatric hospital (from Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald). Although deep in debt, alone and unwell, Scott read her work closely and provided honest feedback.

Kimball hints at, but never explicitly acknowledges any infidelity. In all likelihood, while Zelda found a valued confidante during her husband’s long working hours, his lack of artistic sensibility made any deeper connection unlikely. Likewise, Scott’s relationship with Sheila Graham—the young columnist he met in Hollywood in 1939—wasn’t surreptitious nor salacious, but timely.

There were no secrets between the Fitzgeralds. Between a man of letters and a woman who spoke her mind, they left no room for them. With that in mind, The Gatsby Affair provides an insightful and eminently readable account of this sliver of time in their fractured lives.

***

Aaron Sommers is a writer and teacher. His short stories have been published by The Emerson Review, Berkeley Fiction Review and The Olive Tree Review, among others. You can read more about him over at www.aaronsommers.com or follow him via Twitter (if that’s your thing) @aaronsommers. He lives in New Hampshire, with his wife and two daughters, in a house set deep in the woods and on the more inaccessible side of a mountain.

Submissions now open for “Mythopoeia,” Issue 3.4

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Submissions open May 28, 2020 for Volume 3, Issue No. 4, themed “Mythopoeia,” and close at 12AM EST on August 1, 2020.

Joseph Campbell noted that modern society has outgrown the classical myths, and that new myths must be created. However, Campbell also asserted that modern society is changing too rapidly to be completely described by one overarching mythology, and therefore today’s myths must be created at a later time. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “the sun shines today also … Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.”

Myth explains, myth personifies, myth illuminates. Myth is humankind’s attempt to explain existence to itself.

But myth is also falsehood. Myth is fiction, a narrative created to characterize an event or phenomenon. Some might even rebut Campbell’s claim and posit that modern myth is not only extant, but very well and good in modern society.

While we are reading all types of mythic work for this issue, we are particularly interested in political myth and its role in the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Book Review: A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony by Justin Karcher, Tianna G. Hansen, and Kristin Garth

review by Jared Benjamin

VDC

A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony is a three way-waltz, dancing and swaying to the tune of a poetic ballet. Collaborated by poets Kristin Garth (as “The Doll”), Tianna G. Hansen (as “The Firebird”), and Justin Karcher (as “The Wizard”); the entirety of this collaborative collection reads like an epic ballroom blitz, creating an unbridled, truthful magic. A magic embedded into the chasms of every broken soul.

In the first poem by Justin Karcher, the alias in his enigmatic archetype starts this set of tales, through a soliloquy recounting past demons that made homes inside a body once void of magic, now bountiful of it:

Before my teeth were swampy gemstones, I was but a boy

begging for scraps on the outskirts of some walled city

here was the mighty city with its musclemen and gutter nuns

here was the mighty city with its garbage trucks and concert halls

the songs the police sing when they beat desert into rain

what firefighters sing as they shove candles into graves

here was the mighty city mangling widows with debt and cobblestone”

savior saves something to destroy

 

Throughout this entire collection, Justin confronts the apparitions of his past in order to show an audience of readers what healing after a bedlam of pain looks like.

Then there is sonneteer Kristin Garth, who displays her experiences in the arms of toxic lusters, entrancing readers with the heartbreaking story of deceit. In the poem, Choreographers, readers can see this is not a song Garth wanted to dance to at first, but it’s one she finds refuge in showcasing inside the open wound of her stanzas:

By night, you bleed within, a sacrifice

that does not end at barre or with your art —

new bruises, uses, love you pay for twice,

pink tights, fishnets, careless rips of heart.

In dreams, you see all of them. His face becomes

a hundred men. First taught you to pretend,

bequeathing punishment with sugarplums.

You bite your lip and let them in again.”

 

Garth may represent “The Doll,” but unlike a pinned-up barbie, she is full of life and uses the magic in the pink plastic house of her words to build the bravery that one finds in a survivor’s biopic. The Doll is a symbol of the trials and tribulations one could experience in the clownish abyss of western patriarchy. The bullshit one goes through just to be loved, only to find heartbreak, and to be rejoined with the closest thing away from it, through the underrated mystic sanctuary in a paper pad and a pen.

Lastly there is Tianna G. Hansen, also known as the firebird, who bursts out her own poetic solos and belts the libretto of work that sings to readers like angels trying to re-attach their wings. In Basement Dreamscape Tianna breathes object personification into a reluctant smokescreen of past lives. Readers pay witness to a burning that swells the furnace of the firebird:

All around you nests worldly treasures, archives of

mysticism and impossibility, more a freakshow of

trapped desires and dreams

floating into existence with sheer wizardly will

you are nothing more now than a bottled wonder

exhibit to be shown, gazed upon. No longer

real to the outside world. you once dreamed of

burning

and becoming magnificent with your flames

perhaps you are a witch yearning for the stake

to feel the burn across slick skin instead of

consuming all inside. 

 

Tianna resurrects the ghosts of lyrical alienation only to give us a glimpse at a world view that doesn’t seek the means to a happy ending. Yet, the sheer honesty, the breadth of someone who doesn’t tell their story just to see readers smile.

Although in normal folklore, a wizard, a doll and a firebird would be completely different individuals in almost any situation; Karcher, Garth, and Hansen all have one major thing in common. They all share a magic in speaking one’s personalized truths in the guise of something fantastical. To turn tragedy into a wandering ghost in need of vanquishing; to turn the lies and deceit of bad romances into a set of rhythmic numbers patterns displayed for the literary dancefloors of the world to see; to unwind the fabric of time and space only to weave together the days of your own losses, the mental anguish that burns inside us all.

 

Book Review: “Lizardian” by Melissa R. Mendelson

by Jared Benjamin

 

Lizardian

What starts out in the scenery of a mysterious creature rising from the ashes of a car crash turns into a mystery that engulfs a small town. Melissa R. Mendelson’s Lizardian, harkens to the storytelling efforts of  literary iconoclasts such as Stephen King’s Itor a Televised Series such as Twin Peaksand brings their influence into another realm. Throughout the work there is an interconnected narrative with a diverse coalition of antagonists and protagonists. There’s the headstrong, intelligent High School Senior, Laurel who carries with her a dark-brooding secret; the clean-cut home-bred lawman, Sheriff Thomas Boyd; fellow officer and Long Island transplant, Jim Greer, and the villainous entity of the title with the same name. All of whom help paint the portrait of disruption throughout the story.

Melissa’s supernatural epic makes great use of space in the length between main street normalcy and the bridge into where the story takes its turn. It isn’t until the middle of the seventh chapter where we see the creature’s re-emergence. However, it shows the level of problems that still exist in the realm of small town Americana; without the visage of gore, without the vision of a Netherworldly creature. Issues like a young high schooler going through a lawsuit for saving a young boy’s life, or officers who take pride in their work, only to see it sullied by deputies like Mark Johnson, or the dispute between a man with a checkered past struggling to gain the custody rights to see his own daughter on her birthday. These all seem like small issues on a more universal level, but who are we to say what qualifies a level of concern according to someone else? Lizardian answers such a question, and says yes things can get worse, way, way worse.

This incarnate has a wrath much different than any creature I’ve read about. As in, their wrath, their impact is a slow churn rather than an all out kill. As this reptilian creature ravages through the town, clogging up police phone lines, enclosing people to their homes like nomads to caves amid an ice age; its impact is made in a silent whimper rather than loud bang. But even more intriguing is the fact the creature’s emergence in the town of Crowley, isn’t just out of the sake of vicinity. It’s because of a deeply-bottled secret, one that attracts the creature to this small town courtesy of Laurel. In this moment, her secret evokes the Lizardian and all his rampage potential as countless life after countless life is taken from it.

In contrast to my mention of the somewhat parallel to Stephen King’s IT; as fear fed the monstrous entity in that novel, the spirit of deceit seems to empower the entity in Lizardian. A deceit so encompassing that it’s the fuel that keeps this supernatural beast on his blood-craven path. A driving force that keeps this walking abyss from swallowing this town in collective consumption. Mendelson’s Lizardian is a hauntingly powerful work of suspense, with an unraveling slipstream that doesn’t just unwind from it’s stitching, but tears and rips itself apart, until it reveals thinnest line of thread wrapped around a massive lie. Lizardian demonstrates the build, the conflict and the climax that makes a tale of terror seep into the consciousness of its readers.

Answering the Call for Litmag Financial Transparency – A Note from Tamara Burross Grisanti

Taking a cue from this post by Buffalo’s Peach Mag and the below tweet by Foundlings Press–and wishing to help dispel some of the misunderstandings people have about litmag financial operations–Coffin Bell would like to make known its model for the sustainability of its independent publishing project.

Foundlings Press tweet

 

Coffin Bell Journal‘s 2018 operating budget was $3500. The following is a breakdown of what was spent, the rationale behind the expenditure, and who paid for it.

Coffin Bell began with a budget of $0 in late 2017. Around Thanksgiving of that year, I decided on the name, designed a logo, started the journal’s social media accounts, and built the website–which is where the first expense was encountered: in order to be able to have a custom domain and to customize the site’s appearance, in December 2017, I paid $96 out of pocket for one year of WordPress’s premium site plan. However, by June of 2018, the print anthology Coffin Bell ONE was underway, which required the web site to have the capability to actually sell merchandise–shopping cart functionality. So I paid another $204 out of pocket to upgrade to WordPress’s business plan mid-2018, bringing the total WordPress operating expense to $300.

The journal initially accepted submissions via its free Gmail account. However, as the journal grew and the number of daily submissions climbed, it became an exercise in frustration to navigate between batches of fifty submissions at a time using Gmail’s labels and stars. We had three editors at this point, and were all signing into the one account, trying to keep track of who was assigned what, who needed a response, and so on. In February 2018, I paid $187 (reflecting a 50% discount given to literary magazines by the company) for one year of basic Submittable submissions manager service. The basic plan allowed 100 free submissions per month, gave me five editorial seats (counting my own), so I had the ability to add up to four different editors to whom I would route particular categories of submissions. But because our submission rate continued to grow, I was faced with another problem: we ran out of our 100 free submissions very early each month–around the sixth–which meant we were open for submissions six days a month, and closed for the remainder of the month. This was not working, so I investigated buying the plan one tier up, which was–at that time–prohibitively costly. Submittable only caps free, unpaid submissions, however, so if any money is charged for a submission (they institute a $3 minimum charge), you may accept an unlimited number of such paid submissions. I didn’t want to charge for submissions at all, so instead I opted to create the “Tip Jar” submission category, in which the submitter may choose to “tip” Coffin Bell $3 when they submit their work, as a way to construe to the journal that they appreciate what we’re doing. To my great surprise, Coffin Bell made enough in Tip Jar submission revenue to completely offset the cost of Submittable, despite the fact that Submittable takes a whopping $1.14 out of every $3 Tip Jar submission. (I did not reimburse myself, but kept the Tip Jar proceeds in the operating account.) I have since then had to pull the trigger on buying the next tier of Submittable service so I can now accept 300 free submissions per month, and have ten editorial seats, which is useful, given that the growth of the journal has necessitated my taking on more editorial staff.

When I instituted the Tip Jar submissions, I needed a business checking account to receive the payments into. In order to open a business checking account, one needs an Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is only given to business entities. In order to form the business entity–Coffin Bell Media, LLC–I paid LegalZoom $289 to file the necessary paperwork to get our EIN. Once I had that, I went to the bank and opened the account so we could start receiving payments.

In order to promote the journal, I paid out of pocket for a logo tablecloth for book fairs, and 200 Coffin Bell buttons. I paid out of pocket for the journal’s membership dues for CLMP. I paid for an Adobe Stock Photo subscription for issue cover art.

By mid-2018, I already knew I wanted to print an anthology of highlights from the 2018 publication year. As luck would have it, I knew a book designer from high school, and pitched her on a barter agreement to design the first anthology. She agreed, which saved us roughly $2000. I paid $175 for an ISBN and barcode for the back cover, and covered the cost of the $800 print run, plus the $395 in postage it cost to send the free contributor copies. The revenue generated by sales of the print anthology came nowhere near close to paying for the print run and postage. I knew by mid-2019 that I wouldn’t be able to afford to finance Coffin Bell TWO, so I brainstormed ways to generate revenue. Like most journals, I settled on selling the unpaid labor of myself and my editors. For a flat $10 fee, submitters would receive feedback / critique from three different editors on their flash, short story, or poem (minus the $1.49 cut Submittable carves out of that). Before launching this new option, I sent a mass email to the editorial staff and asked if they were willing and able to participate–I didn’t want to go forward unless support for the strategy was unanimous. Luckily, it was. During 2019, Coffin Bell made enough in Tip Jar and Feedback submissions to cover the $1100 cost of the print run for Coffin Bell TWO. It did not cover the postage–that, again, fell to me personally–but this is a major step towards sustainability.

None of our editors (or myself) have ever been paid by Coffin Bell. Our staff of editors is 100% volunteer powered. I know I will not ever be reimbursed for the expenses I’ve covered for the journal, but that’s okay by me. Coffin Bell doesn’t come close to showing “profit,” and I doubt it ever does. Which is fine, because litmags don’t exist to make money. They exist to promote literary art, and raise up the voices of the writers they publish. And, of course, they hope to generate enough revenue to cover the base cost of existing at all.

NOTA BENE: While the pay-to-play objection is 100% valid, it has been vastly overblown into the insidious oversimplification that when a litmag charges for anything, it is an evil, unethical act. My plea to the voices spreading this misconception is this: educate yourself on the amount of unpaid labor and personal expense involved in keeping a litmag afloat, understand that some income is necessary for any publication to survive (and especially so for indie litmags who aren’t backed / funded by universities), and recognize that the uninformed opinions surfacing again and again on social media of late about the ethics of litmags who charge entry fees for contests with paid guest judges and cash prizes serve only to do harm to the indie publications who struggle, who sacrifice, in order to promote the very writers these skewed opinions allege they seek to defraud. Literary publishing can in no way truthfully be construed as any kind of a money-making scheme devised to cheat authors out of their paychecks.

I hope this post has been illuminating and has served to dispel some misconceptions about litmag operational expenses, and I am hopeful too that my posting this–along with Peach Mag and Foundlings Press–will motivate other editors to share the financial details of their own publications with the interest of transparency in mind.

–Tamara Burross Grisanti, Editor-in-Chief