Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Book Review - Therese Anne Fowler's Z

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 375 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

On the eve of her husband's death Zelda looks back on their life and writes to him about their future, their next great act that she doesn't know will never come. She was the belle of the ball and he was the Yankee soldier with ambitions of being a writer who swept her off her feet despite a lack of prospects and a northern upbringing. But marrying an unpublished writer would be folly. Therefore Zelda broke Scott's heart in order to push him to finish rewriting his first novel. Eight days after This Side of Paradise was published they were married and their decadent life in New York City began. Their bank account would widely fluctuate from being able to afford the most luxurious raccoon coats to not being able to buy groceries. Not that Scott bothered to tell Zelda about their finances, when in need he'd sacrifice his talent and his time writing his next great novel to churning out a story for the magazines he vocally reviled. But New York would prove too costly and with a baby on the way they moved to Minnesota to be near Scott's family. There Zelda found a surprising opportunity besides being a new mother she started to write pieces for the magazines Scott disliked. But he didn't dislike the money or his wife getting credit, even if he often received partial or full credit on her work. Zelda did dislike that. But what was she to do as the wife of a famous author who was notorious for spending more than he could earn. This habit soon led them to a vagrant lifestyle in France where their money could stretch further. They surrounded themselves with artists and authors yet Zelda resented always being the wife. And then Hemingway came into their life. Driving even more of a wedge between the now acrimonious couple. But through the years to come, the ups and downs, the coast to coast relocations, the drinking, the hospitalizations, they always came back to each other, until they no longer could. Until that day in December when Scott left this world.

There's a fine line that is tread when writing a fictional book about a real person, you have to go more for the emotional connection while still keeping enough historical content to ground it in reality. I find this is even more so for wives of authors, and yes, this is a whole subset of historical fiction. Because so much is known about certain authors that their wives, even if they aren't as famous as Zelda, are part of the mystique of the author. Part of their legend. And a truly successful book about a "wife" is one in which she is able to break away from her husband's legacy and be seen for herself. The problem is with Scott and Zelda they are so intertwined that this book is more about their suffocating co-dependence and how that affected Zelda emotional, physically, and artistically. And to get this emotional connection Fowler has gone the logical root of being "Team Zelda" and demonizing Scott, to an extent. Because as she mentions at the end of the book, fans of the Fiztgeralds are all about taking sides. But just the basic facts of Scott viewing the life they lived together as fodder for HIS work ONLY should be enough to make you sympathize with Zelda. Her letters, her stories, her reviews, her diaries, her experiences, all of it, Scott laid claim to. She was his "wife" and nothing more. Fowler shows quite clearly and sympathetically that this is what destroyed them. They destroyed each other because Scott laying claim to Zelda's life forced her into a mental collapse resulting in him becoming her caretaker. So while I felt the narrative got to the heart of the issue I still felt that it could have been presented more eloquently. The beginning of the book is so beautifully written but as the story continues, as Zelda's life disintegrates, the quality trails off, the story becomes more elliptical and suffers. This book is a good start for those interested in Zelda and the Fiztgeralds, but as the author says herself; "Look closer and you'll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true." Just don't look for it here.


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