When I think of Zelda Fitzgerald, I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife who lived the very essence of the Jazz Age and succumbed to the hangover of that time in a sanitarium due to some mental illness. I had not heard or remembered much about her supposed effect on her husband’s work or that she was either a muse or a yoke.
Therese Anne Fowler’s novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald takes the rumors and the facts of her life to create a realistic picture of what Zelda’s life could have been. Fowler portrays F. Scott Fitzgerald as a man in love with life, and in love with the beautiful girl from Alabama that he met while in the military. He helps transform a southern belle into the epitome of the modern Jazz girl, a real flapper that dances on table tops or in fountains after drinking champagne all night.
Fowler takes license to create a relationship between the Fitzgeralds that I’ve only glimpsed in other novels. Fowler does not dispute that they both loved to party and they moved on whims to better create an environment conducive to writing. The people that filled their lives, fill this novel and its a who’s who of the writing world in the 1920’s. The Fitzgeralds knew everyone who needed to be known. This alone made the novel worth reading. Its a different point of view from Ernest Hemingway’s An Immoveable Feast or Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, but one worth remembering and thinking about.
We also get to see a relationship built on love, but not necessarily logic or reality. Fowler treats Zelda as someone who’s true story hasn’t been told. And maybe that’s true. The victors write the history books, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s success allowed his tale to take dominance. Fowler gives some history to Zelda’s side and throws doubt on whether Zelda should have been in the sanitariums and perhaps if the treatments caused some additional ailments.
I can’t comment on the accuracy and in the Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments, Fowler discussed the historical truths and literary licenses she took in writing the novel. Was Fitzgerald a louse who preferred to party over writing, or was Zelda the instigator who made it hard for him to find time to write. Just like most relationships, I’m sure there’s truth to all the rumors, and this novel gives more light to the possibility that F. Scott Fitzgerald drove their relationship over the edge, not Zelda.
Read March 2014.