First NaNo problem: remembering enough of this book to write a review about it! I finished this book back on 17-November so I’m digging into my heart for this one. Expect more of a review on how the book made me feel than the plot. I wanted to read this book because I’m fascinated with ‘the original flapper.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald defined the flappers in his novels and he and his wife were the epitomai of the movement. My 1920s fascination couldn’t let me ignore a book about her! I found the book at a Friends of the Library sale but decided to listen to the audiobook so I could get to it sooner.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Summary from Goodreads:
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?
Reading this after Call Me Zelda, I wasn’t really sure what to think of Zelda. I knew about her mental illness later in life, but what would she be like as a young, beautiful Southern Belle? I found I liked her a lot. Zelda was a very modern woman for her time and was living in a very rigid environment in Montgomery. I was surprised with the things she dared to do while still living with her parents. Once she moved out and married Scott, it surprised me less. Her life with him was beyond frustrating. I found myself hating Scott who is also the author of one of my favorite books. It was hard not to compare this title to Call me Zelda so I’ll say only that I liked this one better and the small time they did overlap in time was starkly different. Z portrayed Zelda as a victim of Scott’s pressures who was really fine while Call Me Zelda implied Zelda was truly very sick but did add that Scott was no help at all. Maybe I need a whole post for this!
I found Zelda very believable. I wasn’t sure if she would be because I know she develops mental illnesses later in life and I wasn’t sure how much Flower would incorporate those early in her story. I was also surprised how believable Scott was. I think very highly of him because of his writing but I really hated how it much of a drunk he was and how much he controlled Zelda. He was unpredictable and I felt really bad for Zelda. She could never have the things she wanted. The ballet story broke my heart the worst and how they both reacted to it was very telling of their entire relationship.
Zelda shone in her own story. I thought Fowler did a great job bringing her to life and showing how she was smart and independent while still being a devoted wife when she had to. She was very different from her contemporaries but very relatable for a modern woman in the 21st Century. I understood her desire to be independent of Scott and have things she was passionate about and successful in on her own. I liked that about her and I can see why she was such a rebel in her time.
It’s easy to think of someone in your life who was overbearing the way Scott was to Zelda, be it a parent, spouse, sibling, teacher, boss, or someone else. Every little thing you do is wrong or your ability to decide is taken away. I could relate to this part of Zelda’s relationship with Scott (side note, not my husband, don’t send Social Services!). I thought Zelda was very patient with him and I could understand why she pushed back on him toward the end. Sometimes enough is enough!
The time Scott and Zelda spent in New York right after they were married was the most magical to me. They were both happy and their troubles hadn’t started yet. Both were so glad to be living together and be married and they were enjoying all the parties and fun they could off of Scott’s success. There was no money worry yet and it was before Scotty and Zelda’s passions came between them. It was their honeymoon period to be sure.
The subplot about Hemingway bothered me. I think the animosity between Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds could be attributed to a number of things and I thought Hemingway propositioning Zelda was a bit much. As much as the book made me dislike Scott, it made me feel even more angry about Hemingway than The Paris Wife did. It’s awful when your literary heroes are terrible people. Maybe I need to stop reading about them. I know this is a fictionalized account, but a lot of the book is based on history I know is true but chose to ignore.
Jenna Lamia did an amazing job narrating this book. I was amazed at her ability to slip into and out of accents. She portrayed Zelda with a lovely southern accent but when Scott or another character spoke, she used a Midwestern accent and even had French accents where appropriate. She brought Zelda to life for me in a magnificent way and I’d love to listen to some of her other work.
The Fitzgeralds tried to have everything and they could only keep juggling so many balls for so long. There’s an extent to how perfect someone’s life can be. They may have looked ideal on the outside but on the inside, their marriage struggled and they were unhappy a lot of the time. I think many of us see friends, co-workers, or celebrities that we idealize because their life situation seems so wonderful but we have to remember that there’s likely something going on beneath the surface that’s less than perfect, much like the Fitzgeralds.
Writer’s Takeaway: It’s nice to read an adult novel in the first person. That point of view is used widely in YA but it’s not as common in historical fiction. I liked the point of view for this novel because Zelda was such a personality herself that it would have been completely lost in some omniscient narrator. Like it was lost in Call Me Zelda. She needed to have her own book and I think this was a fair representation of what Zelda would have been like.
I really enjoyed this book and I think the audiobook was an even greater treat than the book alone. Four out of Five Stars.
Until next time, write on.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler | Books and Reviews
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler | Violet Wells
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Therese Anne Fowler | Curio Street Reads