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.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler marks my introduction to the enigmatic literary starlet. I admit that I was struck by the cover alone. Just her name evokes in me a desire to discover more of how she beguiled a generation of people. As this is a fictitious work, I'm sure that I'll need to do further research, nevertheless, Z is an excellent introduction to the woman herself! This novel has fueled my desire to read Zelda's writings.
I'll admit that I didn't immediately connect to Fowler's portrayal of Zelda Fitzgerald's voice, but, as the novel progressed, I couldn't help but love her agency and spunk. I adored that she is an unabashed Southern gal who sparks amidst the oftentimes, stuffy atmosphere that surrounds her. Zelda and Scott meet as two kids full of brave, ecstatic dreams. Zelda takes on this new phase in her life with high hopes, to the chagrin of her parents, however, there is only a matter of time before the golden couple that they become, fades into a gilded nightmare.
The infamous Scott Fitzgerald was a bit hard for me to stomach. Though this novel seems to plant itself firmly at Zelda's side, it seems Scott has plenty of moments to redeem himself, and he seems to grow progressively worse. In this novel, Scott is portrayed as a real life version of his golden boy Gatsby, though a less charismatic one. His love for Zelda is admirable, but flawed, as it is always at war with his desire for the grandiose excess that mystified him during his time in university...the same glitz that seems to hypnotize an entire generation of people. I found myself sympathetic towards his dreams of becoming the great American writer, but his descent into desperation is glaring and heartbreaking.
The ups and downs of Zelda and Scott's relationship are engrossing as they are startling to behold. Yet, it seems an enduring love that fused them together. Zelda is an example of, perhaps, the many women of the time who wanted more for themselves, but who's voices were manipulated, if not completely silenced. In Zelda's case, it becomes even more psychological, as she is often pushed by Scott to become a caricature of his created femme fatales to please the public eye. I cheered for her so badly as I read. I admired that even in the midst of her depression, there was an unquenchable spirit about her that simply refused to be broken.
Therese Fowler effectively captures the alluring fantasy that the roaring twenties sheathed itself in, while also capturing the reality that the over ecstatic, driven roar of the bright young things has no choice but to crash.
Bare in Mind: This novel contains some adult content, alcoholism, and disturbing mental scenarios.
I give Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler 4 out of 5 cups of sparkling champagne (in moderation of course).
P.S. - I recommend reading this and The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (review to come), in sequence, as the plots seem to intertwine before long.
P.S.S- Isn't it something that Zelda only wanted to have her voice heard apart from Scott Fitzgerald's, and this year, there are two other novels inspired by her life that seem to have eclipsed the anticipated release of The Great Gatsby?