Title: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Goodreads)
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Published: St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
The beautiful and reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre first met Lieutenant Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald at an Alabama country club dance in 1918; she was seventeen at the time. Scott had a big dream, to be a rich writer and he wanted Zelda to join him on this ride of a lifetime. Taking a chance on him, their life soon became a whirlwind of glamour and fame. Z is a fictionalised account of Zelda Fitzgerald and her life with the dashing F. Scott Fitzgerald who everyone wants to meet.
This Side of Paradise (1920)
The novel starts off with Zelda just shy of her 18th birthday, when she meets Scott, a man with big dreams and unlike all the others. The novel The Romantic Egotist was rejected multiple times and almost killed Scott’s dreams, but it was Zelda who kept pushing him to try again. Their attraction blossoms quickly and soon they find themselves engaged. Scott goes off to try and makes a life for them; Zelda doesn’t take too kindly to waiting and with a bit of pushing they are married. Just a little after This Side of Paradise is released with great success. The popularity of this novel turns them into celebrities; everyone wanted to get to know this new author and his scandalous wife.
The Beautiful and Damned (1922)
Life is good with their new found fame for this newlywed couple, but both are passionate people and slowly this started to cause issues. Firstly with the success of Sinclair Lewis’ novel Main Street, the popularity of This Side of Paradise fadeds quickly and soon this couple found themselves struggling to make ends meet. With all the short stories and eventually the release of The Beautiful and Damned, which was largely based on their marriage, they were able to get back to living beyond their means.
The Great Gatsby (1925)
Scott began working on a new novel, which he was very passionate about. So passionate in fact that their marriage suffered again and Zelda planned on leaving. With a lot of beginning she eventually stayed and Scott continued to work on the novel that would eventually become The Great Gatsby. He was so passionate about what this novel would become, he could envision what was wrong with the drafts and what needed to be fixed to make it work, when it was released with mixed results, it really hurt him.
Save Me the Waltz (1932)
When Scott became friends with Ernest Hemingway, he started to spend most of his time with him. Scott loved truly loved Hemingway (platonically presumably) and with all the time he spent with him, Zelda and their daughter Scotty felt left out. Due to either boredom or isolation, Zelda’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and eventually she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Her novel Save Me the Waltz is a semi autobiographical account of her life and marriage.
Tender Is the Night (1934)
The failure of Save Me the Waltz, and her husband’s scornful criticism of her book by calling it “plagiaristic” and her a “third-rate” writer crushed her spirits and she never wrote creatively again. Scott became an increasingly heavy drinker, which caused many health problems for him as well, but while Zelda was hospitalised, he managed to write Tender is the Night, a book about the rise and fall of a promising young psychoanalyst and his wife (who was also his patient). These were the darkest years of their lives together and this was reflected in this novel.
The Love of the Last Tycoon (1941)
Zelda found out her husband had died of a heart attack from her parents, first thinking something was wrong with Scotty. His death, his legacy and her life afterwards were never really explored in this book. We do know that they were in debt when he died and most of his life insurance went towards covering those costs. His unfinished novel The Love of the Last Tycoon was completed by his friend, the literary critic, Edmund Wilson, based on the notes Scott had written but this wasn’t explored either.
I was really interested in reading about Zelda Fitzgerald after seeing Alison Pill’s brief performance of her in Midnight in Paris. I was more interested in her life than his; she seemed like a real fiery person and Z does really explore the first part of her life really well. The major problem I had was that I didn’t really find out enough about the struggles they faced from the 1930’s onwards. The bulk of the book takes place in the 1920’s and then really skips over their marriage and health issues. It completely missed life after his death all together.
I also had issues with the writing style, it just felt too modern and didn’t feel like how a person would talk in the 1920’s. To put it in perspective in the author notes at the end Therese Anne Fowler used the terms “Team Scott” and “Team Zelda” and the novel felt it was using modern phrases like this as well. While it was an interesting look at their lives, I can’t help wonder how much is actually true; fictionalised accounts of historical events are great but sometimes you need to know when creative licensing is in effect. I might have to read the biography Zelda by Nancy Milford and Save Me the Waltz to really know more about her life. I’m not sure why learning more about her life is more important than his life, but I’m just going to go with it.
Z is a great look at the quintessential “Flapper” of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties but for me I wanted more of the other stuff. Glamour and Fame do have their hardships but it looks like they are nothing compared to what happened next. I really enjoyed learning about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; they had an interesting life and I know there was so much to cover. I know more about their lives than I thought I would and while I’m still not sure how much is true, it’s enough to make me want to continue exploring; right after I read every novel written by the Fitzgerald’s as well as Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.