Book Review – Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
January 25, 2015
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 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.
One of the Reading Challenges I signed up for in 2015 was Jazz Age January hosted by Leah over at Books Speak Volumes. As soon as I saw this challenge, I knew I was going to sign up because a) it only required one book to be successful and b) I adore reading books set during the Jazz Age. What a fascinating time in history filled with so many memorable people! I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a book set during this time period.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald crossed my radar last fall, and I knew I had to pick it up. I loved The Paris Wife, which detailed the relationship of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley, and I knew that the Fitzgeralds and Hemingways traveled in many of the same circles.
After reading Z, I realize that there are still so many unknowns about both of the Fitzgeralds. Many believe that Zelda interfered with Scott’s success with her unreasonable demands and mental illness. Others believe that Zelda took the blame for many of Scott’s shortcomings that ultimately had nothing to do with her. Although Fowler offers a plausible timeline of events, the reality is that no one knows the ultimate truth. As I’ve been perusing other reviews for Jazz Age January, I’ve come across other books that I want to read to gain more info on this infamous couple.
As for the book itself, I thought Fowler did a nice job of offering a reasonable portrayal of the life of the Fitzgeralds through the eyes of Zelda. Fowler took on the role of the underdog, and makes you really root for Zelda throughout the book. However, I was just not drawn into the story quite as much as I usually am with historical fiction set during this time period (again I cannot say enough good things about The Paris Wife). I felt as if the story didn’t quite flow, many details were left out (as I’ve discovered by simply reading other Jazz Age January blog posts), and I just was left with a feeling of not being completely satisfied. There were so many questions left unanswered at the end (even after reading the Author’s Note).
If you are looking to learn more about Zelda, this book is not a bad read. If you are looking to read more about the Jazz Age and the lifestyle that many people led, I think The Paris Wife is a far more satisfying read. I’m on the lookout for more books on the Fitzgeralds though, and if I come across something better, I’ll be sure to let you know
Here’s my bonus tip for the day – if you’re participating in the Around the World Reading Challenge, this is a great book to read! Scott and Zelda travel and move constantly so you are able to add a ton of stars to your map!
Have you read any books on the Fitzgeralds? What are your favorite reads set during The Jazz Age?