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Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties, review, Demythologizes the Legend of Four Major 1920s Writers

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the TwentiesAfter reading Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? with enthusiasm years back, Marion Meade was kind enough to send me "Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties." It is somewhat of a follow-up. But not really. However, it is, in short, excellent.

The Dorothy Parker book is more of a straight-ahead biography with tales strewn in, while this one looks at the era in which Parker lived and thrived (but not always). Here. she is one of four players, the other three being Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edna Ferber. It is about these women, to be sure, but it is really about a slice of an unusual era in American literature, culture and femininity. In some ways, what was the literary culture of the 1920s New York City was free-er than the 1960s or 2010s.

With a genuine flair for storytelling, Meade has written what I think is begging to a PBS docudrama, the wonderful kind Ken Burns makes, only better. Each woman's life is looked through more than the lens of their writing. Meade captures flavor and tenor of four women on the rise in fame, and on their way to becoming legendary for their literary skills as well as their after hours dalliances.

Written mostly sequentially with each year a new chapter, long anecdotes tell the tales of four very independent, yet often lonely intellectuals.

An afterward ties up loose ends well, epiloguing the lives of both minor and major characters in the book. Who died when, who divorced/married, and whatever else that related happened years later. Unlike other books of this, Meade includes an exhaustive bibliography and notes section.

Fascinating from beginning to end, "Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties" mentions the often sordid lifestyle choices. Meade just puts it out, says what happens, and explains how things resulted, for better or for worse. Of Edna St. Vincent Millay, for example, "Sleeping with the boy from "Vanity Fair" was probably a bad idea. But Vincent did it anyway. The chance to get 'Dead Music -- an Elegy' published in the magazine's July issue was too tempting."

I fully recommend "Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties" by Marion Meade. Telling well the successes, scandals and tragedies of these amazing literary lives, Meade demythologizes the romance of their legend.

Anthony Trendl
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