|Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Therese Anne Fowler
3 / 5
The Love of the Last Tycoon is a great title for your novel. What does Max say?"
I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer…and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed.
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 isZelda, 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.
You know I have a soft spot for historical fiction, particularly that which revolves around a famous figure. This book studied the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which was probably quite timely, considering the smashing success of the most recent film version of The Great Gatsby. And the novel was pretty good: it was an intimate portrait of a struggling young couple. I think I was a bit put off by many reviewers' assertions that the book wasn't historically accurate in the least, and the Zelda would never have acted this way or that, as she is depicted in the book. I also always felt like The Beautiful and Damned was such a great peek into the Fitzgeralds' life, even though I've since been informed that it's not terribly autobiographical. Ah, well. Anyway - the novel was good in that it kept up a consistent story, one which followed the couple through their ups and downs, over the many decades of their marriage. However, I believe the author intended to vilify F. Scott, as he was consistently portrayed as a selfish, chauvinistic, and self-centered husband. Which, perhaps he was; and this side of his life, viewed through the fictional Zelda's eyes, was fascinating. I often wanted to shake some sense into her husband.
Their story was, also interestingly, not nearly as glamorous as I had always imagined. Zelda was always portrayed as "the original flapper girl", but this novel at least shows her as a more quiet and reserved sort of woman, often in the background of Scott's madness. However, she was also a very strong character, one who fought against the restrictions holding back women at the time - particularly when she was unable to be taken as seriously in her arts (writing and painting) as her husband, or when he was able to put her in a sanitarium simply because she was acting against Scott's wishes.
All in all, this was a very good historical take on Zelda's life, even if it wasn't very accurate (I'm not sure on that point, though - it's only what I've heard!). I have enjoyed a few other historical figure novels more than this one recently, but it was definitely worth a read. Especially for those who have audiobooked The Help - the same narrator, Jenna Lamia, is used in (at least parts of) both, and I do enjoy her work.
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