Another Side of Paradise: A Novel
From the opening scene of Sally Koslow’s Another Side of Paradise it is clear that the love story of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham does not end well. And yet, the protagonist, Sheilah Graham is painted so compellingly the reader willingly dives in to an improbable love story knowing the reward will not be a happy ending. While many people know of gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and her tumultuous love affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Koslow reaches beyond Graham’s carefully self-manufactured image and creates a stunningly realistic and sympathetic character.
Told in first person, Sheilah Graham’s life unfolds for the reader, first in her momentous meeting of Fitzgerald, and then in flashbacks of the deprivations of Graham’s childhood in the ghetto of England’s Stepney Green. After being unceremoniously delivered to an orphanage for Jewish children by her widowed mother, Graham (or as she was known then, Lily Shiel) must overcome hunger and loneliness and it is here we learn just how determined Graham is. As a woman in the orphanage observes, “It’s do or die with you, Lily, isn’t it?”
After her discharge from the orphanage, Lily embarks on a life where she quickly learns, that “Telling lies . . . was no harder than breathing.” And yet, in spite of this careless handling of the truth, Graham is likeable. She is no gold digger. Twice she turns down wealthy, comfortable marriages hoping instead for love.
After a chance encounter with impractical dreamer Sir John Graham Gillam she eventually weds. Johnny believes in Lily and invests in acting lessons and becomes, not only her husband, but her mentor and life-long friend. It is because of him that Lily becomes Sheilah Graham and embarks upon a whirlwind life of hobnobbing with English aristocracy.
In spite of being presented at court, Sheilah Graham is a phony, albeit a very good one. Trapped in a sexless marriage and with a constant nagging concern that the truth about her past will be discovered in her native England, Sheilah decides to go to the United States. A manufactured personae with a dubious past, she quickly realizes there is no better place for her to make her way than Hollywood, a place “designed to pretend.”
Upon her arrival, Sheilah Graham becomes a force to be reckoned with. Names like Louis Mayer, Dorothy Parker, Gary Cooper, and Joan Crawford are easily dropped into the story and add to the entertainment and mystique of the time.
But this is no golden age of movies tale. Rather it is the story of a tenacious and strong woman who works tirelessly to make her way in the world and finds her niche in covering Hollywood gossip. And it is in Hollywood that she meets and falls in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald.
And with this meeting, Sally Koslow presents her readers with a true adult love story. She doesn’t shy away from Scott’s troubled marriage to Zelda and the ramifications of how this effects Sheilah. She doesn’t romanticize his alcoholism, unflinchingly showing the abuse and humiliation that follow in the wake of Fitzgerald’s drinking episodes. And she matter-of-factly portrays the end of Fitzgerald’s career and the self-destruction that helped to bring this about. Yes, there are roses and good times, but they are skillfully tempered with the reality of life with a troubled man.
For good reason, the legend of F. Scott Fitzgerald will always be inextricably entwined with his troubled marriage to Zelda. But with her vivid and honest narrative in Another Side of Paradise, author Sally Koslow has conceived a brilliant and believable portrayal of the love and friendship of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham.