I enjoy learning about history from reading fiction. I find it far more interesting and less likely to be bloated with the boring parts of history—politics and war—and more focused on people and how political situations and cultural changes directly affect them. I like historical fiction and lately seem to be particularly drawn to novels that feature real people. I’m currently reading Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald by R. Clifton Spargo. It chronicles the last trip that this famous couple took together—to Cuba in 1939. Scott was living in Hollywood at the time, writing screenplays to pay for Zelda’s care in various mental institutions. He and his lover, gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, fought bitterly over his drinking the night before he left. Zelda, having seen improvement in her health was hopeful that the trip would somehow mend her marriage. Spargo effectively captures the tension and disappointments that mount, as their vacation fails to solve their problems. (Join us for Now Read This: Take Five Goes Gatsby, July 15 at 7:00 p.m. at AHHA where five librarians will each have five minutes to talk about five books related to all things Gatsby in conjunction with our One Book, One Tulsa: The Great Gatsby program.)
Below are some additional novels that are the perfect marriage of fact and fiction:
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley.
Sex Wars by Marge Piercy. This rich depiction of post-Civil War New York City features both real and imagined characters. Representing the real are suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for President) and their adversary Anthony Comstock, who was determined to keep women in their place.
The Women by T. Coraghessan Boyle, a novel about Frank Lloyd Wright told from the perspectives of the women in his life. Also try Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, about Wright and his love affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, which features the beautiful and precocious 15-year-old Louise Brooks, who would later become the silent film vamp with the famous black bob. She is accompanied by her (fictional) prim and proper 36-year-old neighbor Cora, who discovers much about herself in New York. (Don’t miss author Moriarty at the Novel Talk program on Tuesday the 24th at 7:00 p.m. at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center!)
I Always Loved You: A Story of Mary Cassatt and Edward Degas by Robin Oliveira for all of you art lovers out there.
The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin about Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Novels featuring real people are plentiful. What are your favorites?