Book Review: "Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald" by Therese Anne Fowler

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"I don't want to live. I want to love first, and live incidentally."

Many novels explore F. Scott Fitzgerald and his legacy as a "great American writer." Therese Anne Fowler's Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald flips that around and focuses on his much maligned wife, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

F. Scott Fitzgerald met Zelda, a beautiful and vivacious Southern belle, while stationed in Alabama.  Zelda was a "bad girl," F. Scott was a Princeton drop out. Together, they were the free-wheeling It-couple dancing through life in 1920's NYC, Paris, and Long Island.

The Fitzgeralds' lives weren't all glittering jewels, Charleston nights and charm - it was also recklessness, madness, alcoholism.Their relationship was a complicated one, as all relationships are.

Too often, though, Fowler resorts to framing Zelda as the victim of Scott's weak-willed and rapacious drinking. She quibbles throughout the novel, a superficial and fitful character. Despite Fowler's attempts to dispel the notion that Zelda was shallow and insane, she doesn't do a very good job. While I've always been sympathetic toward Zelda - especially since many women who were strong-minded and independent were often shut away against their wills in insane asylums - I just couldn't stand her in this novel. Scott was even worse - but at least I felt that his characterization was closer to the mark. I'm always wary when any author or biographer puts a public figure on a pedestal.

However, this is an eminently readable novel. I devoured it in days, holding on to imagery of glitzy ballrooms, the romance of the French riviera, the glamour of marriage to a famous author. Those were the same things that seduced Zelda and Scott into the debt, drinking, and mental illness that would be their undoing.

Three stars go to this fun, light-hearted novel. Even though it doesn't quite delve into what really made the Fitzgeralds tick, and certainly has its weaknesses, it delivers entertainment in spades.