Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in The Twenties
Sex. Drugs. Booze. Wild parties. No, it's not another rock-and-roll
band tell-all. It's Marion Meade's intelligent, juicy and
thoroughly entertaining BOBBED HAIR AND BATHTUB GIN.
Meade's latest effort recounts in luscious detail the lives, loves,
closeted skeletons and tormented souls of Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna
St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber --- literary
figures whose stars burned brightly and whose legends took form in
the period in American history bracketed by the end of World War
One and the beginning of the Great Depression.
BOBBED HAIR AND BATHTUB GIN is divided into eleven chapters, each
covering a single year from 1920 to 1930. The four women form the
core of the narrative, which spirals outward as it advances through
the decade of the Roaring Twenties to include a host of figures
that swarmed around New York City's journalism, theater and
publishing hives. Variously entwined and entangled with the women
at the center of the giddy gin- and hormone-fueled maelstrom are
dozens of familiar names, including Robert Benchley, Alexander
Woollcott, and other members of the notorious Algonquin Roundtable;
H. L. Mencken; and of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Meade's exhaustive research and crisp writing have produced a work
that is at once a fascinating history of the American literary
scene in the Twenties and a sensational beach read, a
thinking-person's soap opera. A welcome antidote to the assorted
dullards and contrived situations of reality television, BOBBED
HAIR AND BATHTUB GIN delivers smart, extraordinarily talented real
people, human beings with the obsessions, neurosis and
psychological baggage that are part of the requisite chemistry of
artistic genius, literary or otherwise.
In their twenties during the Twenties, Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St.
Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber were, like their
contemporaries, people who gleefully ignored inconvenient laws and
problematic social conventions. They were at various times
heartbreakers and heartbroken. The men in their lives acted either
as the hero/protector, or like navigationally challenged birds that
fly into windowpanes.
As a kind of who's who of American writers of the era, BOBBED HAIR
AND BATHTUB GIN offers a compelling portrait of a unique period in
American cultural history. While many of the real-life characters
in this wonderful book ultimately found something less than happy
endings, one feels perhaps a greater sense of loss for the passing
of an era when print was king and writers were revered as stars in
their own right. (It must also be observed, however, that they were
also the subjects of a level of public interest and scrutiny that
made Scott and Zelda the Ben and J-Lo of their day.)
H. G. Wells, who makes a brief appearance at a party in BOBBED HAIR
AND BATHTUB GIN, was, of course, the author of THE TIME MACHINE. In
a profound and thoroughly engaging way, author Marion Meade has
provided readers with the means to travel back to 1920 and witness
the lives of four women whose voices, vices and literary virtues
added to the roar. It is a journey well worth the effort.
Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on December 22, 2010