If you were an English major in college, as I was, you spent hours swooning over F. Scott Fitzgerald–his brilliant stories, his glamorous existence, his hobnobbing with Hollywood moguls, and, of course, his passionate and doomed relationship with the exotic Zelda. You think you know the story, we all do. But the brilliant Sally Koslow, with her luminous storytelling, endless insight, and meticulous research, proves us wrong.
For most people, the name Sheilah Graham–if it’s familiar at all– brings to mind a Hollywood gossip columnist. Possibly we know she went head-to-head with Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons to chronicle the inside scoop of the Hollywood stars of the 1930s. But if you’re asking: who is Sheilah Graham? And what does she have to do with F. Scott Fitzgerald? Then that is exactly the question that Sally Koslow wants to hear. And boy does she have a riveting and fascinating answer.
Another Side of Paradise (Harper) is an absolute page-turner…a combination of literary lore, Hollywood glamour, and one fascinating woman’s lifetime of ambition-driven deceit, her glittering success, her hidden sorrow, and her ultimate redemption.
This is a marvelous, realistic and authentic story. Sheilah’s voice is so perfect, so believable and so seamless that I kept forgetting that this was an imagined autobiography and not a real one. I kept thinking that Sheilah had written this herself, a compendium of her diaries and thoughts and actions, her dalliances, loves and lovers, and her lies.
Sheilah Graham –– it will not be a spoiler to tell you–grew up not as a posh Brit, but in one of the most horrific and depressing places you can imagine. I hesitate to describe her humble and bleak beginnings because I want you to have the experience of reading about them for yourself. But Another Side of Paradise is the story of a struggling and thoroughly ambitious young woman, a wily scrapper who takes every bad card the world deals her and crafts it into a winning hand.
If Sally did not make us love Sheilah—at least, the engaging and spunky and determined woman who becomes Sheilah–we might not like her. And that’s is another masterful part of this riveting book.
But as newly-named Sheilah claws her way from Cockney shop girl to London starlet to kept woman/almost prostitute to a seductive young thing hovering on the edge of royalty, we root for her, understand her, applaud her victories, and even understand her methods.
Her flight to Hollywood– where Americans applaud a phoenix backstory, instead of dismissing it–takes her to a whole new world where she can start over, with a carefully curated history, a new accent, and endless ambition. She snags a job as a Hollywood gossip columnist, trading in secrets and backroom whispers—a skill and a power she soon understands perfectly. But what knocks her for a loop is the moment she meets F. Scott Fitzgerald. A gaspingly-handsome but almost has-been, and still a married man, though his wife Zelda is institutionalized thousands of miles away. Despite being tragically flawed, Scott is brilliant. Sheilah is instantly smitten, and her life is never the same.
Again, with a perfect touch and thoughtful characterization, Koslow shows us how first Sheilah was her own Eliza Doolittle—teaching herself what she could, making herself acceptable, and climbing through the social system the best she could on beauty and charm. But in Hollywood, Scott Fitzgerald takes over the role of Henry Higgins and turns the under-educated but whip-smart Sheilah not only into a woman of arts and letters but into one who learns — almost reluctantly –– how to love.
The array of Hollywood big names Koslow introduces us to is delicious, and her descriptions of the movie star lifestyle are as delightful as reading an old issue of Photoplay– irresistible! Secrets of the stars, from the studios that erased their personal histories to the censored movies, to the illicit love affairs and lobsters at the Trocadero, the hidden gin and cheek-to-cheek dancing, the jargon and the studio shorthand and the script-writing machinations, the reader is enchanted by this insight into a lifestyle that will never be duplicated.
Exquisitely researched, this book is a treasure. So much fun, and so revealing, and such an insight into a person who was fabulously successful on the outside—but inside, lived in constant and debilitating fear of a secret she was terrified to reveal. This is the book’s heart—Sheilah Graham’s secret past, that especially in the milieu of Hollywood and the looming World War, could change her life and shatter the illusion she’s worked so resolutely to build. There is a moment in the book when she decides—well again, I will not ruin it for you–but it will break your heart.
If you adored F. Scott Fitzgerald in college, or ever, you will never think about him the same way again. And that’s a good thing. If you have never heard of Sheilah Graham, you will be all the better for knowing and understanding her.
Another Side of Paradise is a treasure, one of those books where the walls fall away and you are drawn, irresistibly, into another time and another place, into another life and another heart. I read it at my desk, on my couch, in airplanes and late at night while everyone else slept. And you will, too. It is terrific.
Another Side of Paradise is available for purchase.
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Sally Koslow is the author of the novels Another Side of Paradise; the international bestseller The Late, Lamented Molly Marx; The Widow Waltz; With Friends Like These; and Little Pink Slips. She is also the author of one work of nonfiction, Slouching Toward Adulthood: How to Let Go So Your Kids Can Grow Up. Her books have been published in a dozen countries.
Sally is the former editor-in-chief of McCall’s Magazine. She has taught at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College and is on the faculty of the New York Writer’s Workshop. She has contributed essays and articles to The New York Times, O, Real Simple, and many other newspapers and magazines. She has lectured at Yale, Columbia, New York University, Wesleyan University, and the University of Chicago, as well as many community and synagogue groups.
Sally lives in Manhattan but hopes the statute of limitations never ends on mentioning that she is from Fargo, North Dakota. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she met her husband. They have two sons.