Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Z is not a book for everyone.
It is a novel based on research about Zelda Fitzgerald and her life and relationship with her husband, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Fowler states at the end of her work that it is,
Fiction based on real people [which] differs from nonfiction in that the emphasis is not on factual minutiae, but rather on the emotional journey of the characters. I've tried to create the most plausible story possible, based upon all the evidence at hand.
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's famous novel depicting the obsessive Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy, is a novel I've always loved. The writing flows like a poem swirling with color, description, romance and tragedy. I do not read it as a love story, rather it’s about illusion. Illusory dreams without a touch of reality based in Gatsby’s head much as Zelda’s life with F. Scott.
Fowler’s account of Zelda’s life brought a new perspective to ponder.
I understood that Daisy was loosely based on the capricious Zelda. The myth around her both compelled and fascinated me. Since reading Z, I understand there's so much more to the lives of this "Lost Generation" couple.
Fowler also says that the book's not meant as a biographical account but as an attempt to imagine what it was like to be Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. She does accomplish this, although I was nearly a third of the way through the book before it held my interest.
Early on, I found myself thinking that I might not finish Z.
I quickly became bored with a capital YAWN with the self-absorbed personality of Zelda: her pleasure, her wanting to push the boundaries of her Alabama upbringing with antics intended to shock and her accounts of the boys and men who found her a tempting and beautiful siren. There are stories of her wearing a flesh colored bathing suit, pinning mistletoe to back of he skirt and smoking hoping it would bring her sophistication as a result. She even practiced her smoking for optimum affect.
Her greatest pleasure was bending the social norms considered appropriate for a judge's daughter, which she was.
It isn’t until after her marriage to Fitzgerald that I began to enjoy reading Z. Their lives were one round of drinking, dancing and partying after another. Yet, I found the writing and the story captivating. Zelda did have talent of her own: painting, dancing and writing.
Her husband kept her from fully developing her many talents or getting credit for her own work. I did not know that she wrote many stories that he insisted must have his byline or at least a shared byline to even be considered by a publisher. He used her for his own glorification.
The book's written from Zelda's point of view. It is actually very well-researched demonstrating her husband’s blatant use of her abilities and effervescent personality. Over and over and over he used her writing, her language in his work and basked in the glory and accolades that should have at least been shared.
Fowler put words in Zelda's mouth that are profound, believable and thoughtful.
She utilized quotations directly from Zelda that F. Scott used when writing The Great Gatsby. He used Zelda as his real-life material for the character of Daisy, even kept a notebook wherein he recorded statements Zelda made for later use in his work.
Daisy said at the birth of her daughter, "I hope she will be a beautiful little fool," the very words Zelda uttered upon being told she'd given birth to a girl.
I now know a great deal more about the era beyond the Fitzgerald's dizzying life -- Zelda was simply ahead of her time. She fought to maintain some independence to adhere to sense of her own talents and abilities pitted against a society that expected her to be a good wife who would stand in rock solid in support of her husband and his career.
She states the crux of her life by saying, "Nothing except luck protects you from catastrophe. Not love. Not money. Not faith. Not a pure heart or good deeds -- and not bad ones either, for that matter." She makes this statement on the second page of the novel and sets out to prove its truth.
Zelda muses that,
It was all a mistake. We shouldn't have gotten married in the first place. I should have waited to see how things might go. It just...it’s just like we were embarking on a great adventure, but that adventure turned into a party we couldn't resist...
More than insight into the lives of the Fitzgerald’s and their literary friends, the book's a historical backdrop of a changing society. Zelda fought for independence. F. Scott asserted his control. Fowler puts what she imagined would be Zelda's thoughts near the end of the book.
All that summer we bloodied our knuckles, Scott and I did, neither of us giving an inch. I was fighting for my right to exist independently in the world, to realize myself, to steer my own boat if I felt like it. He wanted to control everything...
Certainly the Jazz Age was on the cusp of huge societal changes in male/female gender expectations and relationships. Reading the book is like picking up a diary of a person who deserves admiration in the face of great difficulty and opposition. Zelda was placed in mental institutions on a few occasions to help set her straight, to push in the correct direction. Reading of her suffering through shock therapy and insulin shock therapy will give you shudders.
The book would have worked well as a biographical account but writing it as fiction based on fact gave me a stronger sense of the emotions and struggles that women of Zelda's era came up against.
Fowler succeeded in taking me on an emotional journey that likely would not have occurred in a straight biography.
Before reading the book, I'd thought of Zelda as an unstable and vacuous person. After reading the book, my concept changed. As I said earlier, this is not a book for everyone. It is one that will give you much to think about and consider, especially as to how our society has changed and continues to evolve.