Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler
Paperback: 375 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin; Reprint edition (March 4, 2014)
Amazon Book Description: When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.
Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it.
Reading Sara Review: Biographical fiction has always been a favorite genre of mine, and this story of Zelda Fitzgerald fit that genre perfectly. I always walk away from these books with inspiration to learn more and enchanted by a different time, place and group of people. This book is clearly very well researched, and while the actual conversations probably did not occur, Fowler seemed to stay factual to the character’s personalities of those times in a true way. Reading about all of the fascinating people that they interacted with (Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Sarah and Gerald Murphy), made this book a fun time-traveling escape that made me want to re-watch the movie Midnight in Paris, or just go back to Paris!
Zelda Fitzgerald is a fascinating character in her own right, outside of being the wife of famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald. She is passionate, lovely, and ambitious. Zelda was very much a woman of her time – seeking a calling for her own pursuits as well as supporting those of her husband (even if she did not consider herself a feminist – which I believe was likely rooted in her southern upbringing of that time).
Was she as crazy as Hemingway made her out to be? Was the Fitzgerald’s relationship as tumultuous as her book claims and their friends claim? Probably. But that just makes their story even more exciting. I have not read Tender Is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald) or Save Me The Last Waltz (Zelda Fitzgerald). If you have – you know more than me on this topic. In each, they give their own account of what happened to their marriage, which again, some truth likely comes from each. This novel paints Zelda in the more positive light, and rightly so, because I think this book finally made it clear that it was Zelda’s turn to shine, as history (and Hemingway) were not kind to Zelda.
The relationship between the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway is certainly fascinating in its own right. The impact that Scott’s friendship with Hemingway had on his marriage makes for interesting gossip and speculation. Hemingway’s passion of hating Zelda honestly seems strange and confusing. I enjoyed Fowler’s speculation of what might have occurred to make Hemingway turn against Zelda, especially because it seems to be in line with other things I have read about Hemingway.
I had no idea about all of Zelda’s talents – from the ballet dancing, to her writing and her art. She was truly much more than a muse and a wife. It seems to me that throughout her life she was continuing to search for a form of expression that would define her. Often times, it seemed she was too late or that she was simply in the wrong era for a career. And her illness so early in her life certainly stifled her own passions.
Modern doctors have said that Zelda likely suffered from bipolar disorder. I truly believe so much would be different for Zelda had she lived 50 years later – not just in the end, rather than be in asylums and institutions because of her mental illness – but she would have had a different type of freedom. She would not have had to wait until Scott Fitzgerald was rich to marry him, and she would have been free to pursue her passions alongside her husbands.
A couple of years ago, a few others books around Zelda came out – which doesn’t surprise me. We are always interested in the woman and the life that she led behind the scenes. Scott and Zelda could arguably be considered one of society’s first “glamorous couple.” They were famous for their public drunkenness, their lifestyle and spending habits. If you are unfamiliar with the Fitzgeralds, this story will be a fun way to learn about them – knowing that it is historical fiction about real people, so while there may be some truth, you will have to judge much of it for yourself.
This book inspired me to read many others – of which, I have only read one so far. What wonderful Jazz era books surrounding the Lost Generation do you recommend?
Wine Recommendation: Well, because Zelda and Scott were fairly serious party people, I would recommend something celebratory – a champagne! My personal favorite is Moët & Chandon, which retails for a little more than my average Wednesday night wine at around $60. Save it for a special occasion (or use it to create a special occasion – my favorite way!) and toast to Zelda!