Preston, Caroline

views updated

Preston, Caroline


Married Christopher Tilghman (a novelist); children: three sons. Education: Graduated from Dartmouth College; Brown University, M.A.


Home—Charlottesville, VA.


Writer, novelist, and archivist. Archivist and manuscript librarian at Harvard University Houghton Library, Cambridge, MA, and Peabody Essex Institute, Salem, MA.



Jackie by Josie, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.

Lucy Crocker 2.0, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.

Gatsby's Girl, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.


When Caroline Preston first decided to write a novel she was thirty-nine years old, with three sons. Her husband, novelist Christopher Tilghman, encouraged her, but she found most of her support, editing help, and progress, in her writers' group. She began writing a multigenerational novel set in the Midwest, where she grew up, but was diverted by journalist Edward Klein, who asked her to do some research for him at the Kennedy Library. He was writing a biography of Jackie and John F. Kennedy, and Preston's research background as an archivist at Harvard University's Houghton Library and the Peabody Essex Institute in Salem made her perfect for the job.

The research gave Preston the idea for Jackie by Josie, a comic novel about Josie, a graduate student whose dissertation on an obscure nineteenth-century poet is going nowhere. Her marriage to Peter, a fellow graduate student whose writings on popular culture are a raging success, is becoming strained and stale. Fortunately, she is distracted from her difficulties when she is hired to research Jackie Kennedy for a "kiss-and-tell" biography. Gradually, Josie delves into the lives of Jackie and John. Josie, described as "an edgy, lovable heroine" by Judith Viorst in the New York Times Book Review, begins seeing similarities between Jackie's life and her own: her lonely childhood, her parents' bitter divorce, her undependable father, and a husband who is dangerously good-looking. The book weaves Josie's own concerns about her husband's potential affair and her mother's alcoholism with her discoveries about Jackie's similarly difficult life. By the end of the book, however, both Jackie and Josie triumph, winning back their husbands, moving on in their careers, and raising healthy kids.

A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the book's humor and warm family story, but remarked that "unfortunately, the various plot lines end up so neatly resolved that one longs for the untidy—but far more interesting—magic of Jackie's real-life odyssey." Sylvia Brownrigg, however, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, praised Preston's "intelligent comedy of marriage" and noted that "the real subject of Jackie by Josie is marriage and infidelity …. Eventually [Josie] learns something from her subject about how to handle a charming philandering husband."

Lucy Crocker 2.0 "offers lighthearted fun for readers interested in the humorous clash between hightech lifestyles and old-fashioned domesticity," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The titular Lucy is a children's librarian and artist who lacks the computer knowledge that her programmer husband and techno-geek twin sons possess in abundance. Despite her lack of technical savvy, she becomes famous as the designer of the popular computer game Maiden Quest, which seals family company Crocker Software's fortunes. Not all is well within the Crocker family, however. Lucy is finding it difficult to work on the much-anticipated sequel to Maiden Quest. Frustrated by her procrastination and bored with their marriage, Lucy's husband Ed has an affair with Ingrid Bascomb, the company's publicity director. Her thirteen-year-old sons Benjy and Phil, when not running their own lucrative hardware installation business, are fond of downloading pornography from the Internet. Determined to stop the slow dissolution of her life and family, Lucy takes the twins and heads off to her parents' remote wilderness cabin, where she spent time as a girl. There, she seeks to regroup in a primitive atmosphere far from bits, bytes, computers, and software. Life in the backwoods is not as pristine as she had hoped, however, as she faces her own series of troubles and temptations. Booklist reviewer GraceAnne A. DeCandido concluded that Preston sometimes tries a "little too hard to one-up the computer culture, but mostly her novel proves charming and amusing."

Gatsby's Girl reconsiders the early life of famed American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and his first love, Chicago debutante Genevra King. Preston changes King's name to Perry in the novel, and imagines the young woman as beautiful, fickle, and self-absorbed, the daughter of a wealthy high-society family. When Fitzgerald meets the flirtatious sixteen-year-old Genevra at a winter party in St. Paul, he is immediately smitten. A stolen kiss during a bobsled ride leads to an impassioned romance between the two, mostly carried out through letters when she returns to Westover boarding school in Connecticut and he goes back to Princeton. Soon, however, Genevra's interest wanes, and she opts for marriage to a handsome aviator, Bill Granger, leaving Fitzgerald bereft. As Fitzgerald's literary career grows, female characters in his novels exhibit characteristics displayed by the Genevra Perry he once knew. For her part, Genevra watches his fame increase and keeps tabs on the amalgams of herself appearing in his fiction, all the while enduring an emotionally sterile and loveless marriage to Granger, which eventually comes apart. Much of Preston's novel is based on actual events in King's life, but Genevra's "increasingly serious troubles—a mentally ill child and a wrecked marriage—are the product of Preston's imagination, and they bring out her more nuanced and attentive writing," remarked Evan Hughes in the New York Times Book Review. Ultimately, Genevra finds herself pressed by the heavy burden of the age-old question of what might have been, if she had only chosen differently. Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley called the novel "an evocative and lively tale." Reviewer Beth E. Andersen, writing in Library Journal, found Preston's work to be a "fascinating rendering" of Fitzgerald's life and that of the "young woman who was the catalyst for so much of his glorious body of work."



Booklist, April 15, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Lucy Crocker 2.0, p. 1525; April 15, 2006, Kristine Huntley, review of Gatsby's Girl, p. 37.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2006, review of Gatsby's Girl, p. 202.

Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Joyce W. Smothers, review of Lucy Crocker 2.0, p. 132; April 1, 2006, Beth E. Andersen, review of Gatsby's Girl, p. 86.

New York Times Book Review, February 23, 1997, Judith Viorst, review of Jackie by Josie, p. 10; June 1, 1997, review of Jackie by Josie, p. 35; May 21, 2006, Evan Hughes, "Boats against the Current," review of Gatsby's Girl, p. 30.

Publishers Weekly, November 25, 1996, review of Jackie by Josie, p. 56; March 20, 2000, review of Lucy Crocker 2.0, p. 70; February 27, 2006, review of Gatsby's Girl, p. 33.

San Francisco Chronicle, May 14, 2006, Dana Kletter, "Fitzgerald Seen through Eyes of His Lost Love," review of Gatsby's Girl, p. M-2.

Times Literary Supplement, April 18, 1997, Sylvia Brownrigg, review of Jackie by Josie, p. 19.

Washington Post Book World, May 21, 2006, Ron Charles, "The Crack-Up," review of Gatsby's Girl, p. 5.


Houghton Mifflin Web site, (February 10, 2007), biography of Caroline Preston.