Book Review: The Gatsby Affair by Kendall Taylor

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 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.

Book Review: “Lizardian” by Melissa R. Mendelson

by Jared Benjamin



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.

UPDATE: Coffin Bell TWO is coming!

We are thrilled to announce that we are going to press with Coffin Bell TWO this fall! We are still in the midst of selecting the issue, and hope to have a release date in October 2019. We will ask that contributors pay a $5 fee (if able) to cover the cost of the mailer and shipping. If you are a contributor and are unable to pay the fee, please contact us and we will waive it.

We appreciate your patience and understanding while we have ironed things out and couldn’t be more excited to bring you this second volume of dark work! Stay tuned for a cover reveal in the upcoming days!

–Tamara Burross Grisanti, EIC

UPDATE: A Note from EIC Tamara Burross Grisanti


Coffin Bell Journal is currently on a short hiatus due to unexpected medical and family emergencies on my part. Coffin Bell is a labor of love, and is run by a staff of volunteers. Unfortunately, I am, in addition to EIC, the sole production manager for Coffin Bell, responsible for migrating work from Submittable to the Coffin Bell website. Due to these unforeseen circumstances–which have impacted my health, my finances, and my family–issue 2.3 (which was scheduled to launch 7/1/19) will launch on 9/1/19. We appreciate your patience and understanding at this difficult time.

I have plans in place to train at least one more editor on back-end production so this doesn’t have to happen in case of future emergencies.

These circumstances may also impact the publication of Coffin Bell TWO. As it was mostly financed by myself, I’m not sure at this time that I will be able to afford to print the second anthology. And if I do print it, I may not be able to provide free contributor copies. I hope to be able to, and ask for your patience as we make that determination.

We appreciate your support, and we will be back on our regular schedule for issue 2.4, the “Masquerade” issue, which will be published 10/1/19.

We understand your concern for your work, and thank you for trusting us with it. All work which was scheduled to go live 7/1/19 will go live 9/1/19, and we ask that you only send emails to us about your work in issue 2.3 if you wish to withdraw it from publication.

As always, we love you and love your dark work, and hope to bring more of it to readers for years to come.

All best,
Tamara Burross Grisanti

Tiana Coven’s Review of RECLAIM: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry

Reclaim is an anthology of poetry that aims to “address the need for reclamation of women’s autonomy over their bodies, as a response to their endured oppression as members of a society tainted with capitalist-patriarchal standards.” This anthology includes so many talented women in the poetry community and the content covers so many different experiences. Each individual poem comes together beautifully to create an anthology that feels so authentically intersectional.

It’s one thing to identify as an intersectional feminist and it’s another thing to actually put action into the identity and create a space where we can have open conversations about how the systems in power negatively affect women. This is what Elizabeth has done when she curated this anthology that is so open and honest about womanhood. Each poem is a knock out, but for the purpose of this review I’m going to share some of my favorites and what they meant to me.

            The first poem in the collection, “Decolonising the Body” by Umang Kalra, sets the precedent for the anthology. This poem to me puts into words the violence of colonization both in large and smaller forms. In her lines-


“they sunk their knives into our beings asking

why we wouldn’t grow forests on our tongues,

they want to pluck from the folds of our skin the fruit

that only grows in these parts

of us”


she gives such a profound image of colonizers literally plucking what grows naturally on the marginalized body, or in other words what comes natural to their culture. It’s difficult to put into words the anger that stems from marginalized cultures being stolen from and poorly reproduced by the “majority,” but Umang does this so eloquently.

Moving on to the second poem featured, “Training Bras” by Wanda Deglane sends me back to my middle school days as she paints the scene of how young girl’s bodies are put on display as they grow. Her lines-


“there are girls among us whose

bodies are already rose gardens

– bras already filled by fifth

grade and curves flowing in and out like drunken roads.

we watch them with jealousy and pity interweaving in our



are particularly memorable to me. I think back to my eighth-grade year and the constant torment that puberty was putting us all through. There was a particular girl who roamed the halls with confidence that I now know must have been built through the trauma of having such a developed body at a young age. The kids in my grade all gossiped openly about her and speculated about what she must be getting up to with the boys, all because of her breast size. We were only thirteen. Wanda brings these emotions back to me as I remember how I felt looking at her as she walked the halls with her head held high- jealous that all eyes were on her, but also sad that she would never be able to escape the body that caused so many snickers and whistles.

Not only do the words hit hard in this anthology, but there is a visual aspect to three of the poems in particular that left an impact on me. The first being “Fat Girls On Trains” by Djamilla Mercurio. In her poem, Djamilla gives me, a skinny woman, a glimpse as to what it feels like to be stigmatized because of her weight through the visual aspect of her poem. She writes about feeling like she’s taking up too much space and as the poem closes, she gradually spaces out the words as if to physically take up the space that others have made her feel like her body is doing too much of. This aspect fits so perfectly with the theme of the poem and is a perfect example of how spacing can be used to convey an emotion to the reader.

“In the Flicker: A Fable” by Alison Rumfitt is the second poem that impressed me through the pacing style, and my personal favorite poem in the entire anthology. Alison’s piece reads like a story in verse and tells such a captivating tale of a trans woman in a world that feels somehow worldly and fantastical at the same time. I literally couldn’t look away from the page, afraid I would miss an important part of the story. The unique story-telling method allowed me just a glimpse into the fear that trans women face every day-


“MEN: What a beautiful night

SHE scrambles up. The people in the kebab shop look at her

limping with a half hearted curiosity,

if you’re out this late, then you’re ready

to die , really, the MEN move behind her, the streetlamp

is up ahead—

SHE: Moths! Please help me! Please!

But they do not answer.”


As a cis woman, this poem is like seeing the fear of being murdered or mistreated because of transphobia/transmisogyny through a squint. The image is blurry since I can never truly know this feeling, but Alison’s narrative chills me to the bone as the poem allows me to catch a peek into the horror of the line: “if you’re out this late, then you’re ready/to die.”

The third poem that impressed me with its pacing style was “For Reyna Marroquín” by Eloise Birtwhistle. This poem tells a story in three simple parts, each section following a year. In the simplicity of its layout, I learn of the story of Reyna from her journey to America to her body being discovered years after her murder. Its simplicity devastates me- as the short poem separates Reyna’s life, and death, into the three parts that we would most likely read in a newspaper about her murder. But by using the separation of each section through dates, Eloise allows for the reader to fill in the blanks on the heartbreaking story of a Salvadorian woman who left the comfort of her home and family for presumably a better future through economic means. But when she arrived in a land that was marketed as a way to kickstart her future, she was met by the indifference of a country that never thought to look for a Salvadorian woman who went missing. The simple poem pays tribute to a story that represents how women of color can be so easily discarded and forgotten, especially when they have been labeled as immigrants. The poem leaves off in 1999, when Reyna’s body was found. But what’s changed?

I want to give an honorable shout out to Marisa Crane’s “We Get to Talking About Dating Apps & I Remember How.” She writes in depth about experiences that are so common for lesbians as they navigate womanhood. As a lesbian, I often notice that our experiences are most often not mentioned in anthologies that focus on women’s oppression- an implication that we are not fully woman at all. Marisa’s unyielding recollection on her experience as a gay woman was one I was so grateful to read. Plus, her lines-


“The only difference between

the men & our flag is the expectation

of kneeling before one & not

the other.”

put a smirk on my face.


The last poem I want to talk a bit about is “Untitled” by Jean-Marie Bub. This poem is a statement as to what so many of those whose reproductive rights are being stripped away in the United States right now are feeling. Jean-Marie writes, “she who harbors humanity/ should control her own fate.” Such a simple statement, but the point of the poem strikes deep- those who wield the power to reproduce should always be in charge of the choice to use that power or not. Period. This poem feels like a call-out to anyone who can’t wrap their head around why anyone would choose to have an abortion. In her poem, Jean-Marie basically says that if you can’t understand the why- then mind your own business. I love this sentiment.

Like I said in the beginning of this review, every single poem in this collection is so refreshingly honest and deserves all the praise. Overall, this anthology is a must read- hearing women’s experiences through their own words is so important to every one of us, especially in our current sociopolitical climate. Well done.