Monday, 25 March 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald - Therese Anne Fowler

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. 

Who doesn't have a little bit of love for the Fitzgeralds? They were both larger than life and the life they shared was the thing movies are made about. When I saw a book about Zelda, I was excited to read it. I definitely don't know enough about her and wanted to know more.

Z is fiction but very clearly well researched. It starts when Zelda is seventeen and soon to meet Scott and ends with Scott's death in the early forties. Everything is from her point of view and it shows the frequent ups and downs of the life of literature's two hippest movers and shakers.

What impressed me most about this book was how easy it is to sympathize with Zelda. Although she is definitely a wild child, there is a lot in the book about how her being a woman in the early twentieth century was perhaps what lead to more of her famous problems than just mental issues. There is a segment where she's in a sanitarium and they tell her that the reason she feels so out of it is that she's not being motherly enough, that she is trying to do too much of her own thing and not taking care of her family like she should. Reading this in the early twenty-first century, it definitely seems ridiculous but knowing that's the sort of thing Zelda had to go up against is heartbreaking.

I loved the image Fowler painted of the Fitzgerald marriage. It definitely has its ups and many, many downs but there is never any doubt that they are the loves of each others lives. They just never can quite be happy. 

Another great relationship, the one between Scott and Hemingway, is greatly crafted. I enjoyed Fowler's view on how Zelda and Hemingway's relationship turned sour and the ongoing fight for Scott's attention. Very well illustrated and thought provoking.

This is a great book, both for the narrative quality and the way it shows an era in focus like that of the "roaring twenties." Definitely recommended for any Fitzgerald, twenties, flappers or feminist fans.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald comes out tomorrow (March 26) from St. Martin's Press.

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