Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Getting in Zelda Fitzgerald's head

Being that The Great Gatsby is in theaters, this seemed like a good time to delve into the Fitzgerald clan. I knew very little about Scott and Zelda prior to reading this book, and I was left wanting to know more when I finished.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is told from Zelda’s point of view entirely, revolving around her relationship with Scott. It opens when she is 17 years old in Montgomery, Alabama. Zelda is a busy girl with all of her social engagements, such as volunteering for the Red Cross, going out dancing, and flirting with multiple boys. She is the youngest child of a judge for the state, and is expected to be a proper lady. However, being a child born late in life to her parents, they pretty much let her run free.

With men being stationed nearby for the war, Zelda meets several soldiers, and one of these is Scott. Scott, about four years older than Zelda, becomes immediately infatuated with her, despite her continuing to have other beaux. The two see each other often until he is sent to New York prior to shipping out. The war ends before Scott can be sent away, and their courtship resumes, and ultimately concludes with their marriage about two years after their initial meeting.

The book makes a lot of Zelda’s family thinking Scott unacceptable for her, but Zelda takes it a different way. She worries that their love will distract Scott and hold him back from greatness. Nonetheless, the two marry, and thus begins a tumultuous love affair.

In the first few years of their marriage, the two move around frequently, going from New York City to St. Paul, and then back to the outskirts of New York. During this time, Zelda has their baby, Frances Scott “Scottie.” The high point of their marriage was in New York, when Scott was a young, famous writer, and the two were celebrities on the town.

The relationship between Zelda and Scott was never at a place of contentment. Everything between the two seemed to be a battle, with Scott often the victor. Zelda was even left out of the naming of their child. It was clear to the reader that despite being so attached to one another, they were almost poison to each other too. Their relationship changed so much over the course of the novel, with ups and downs, ultimately ending when Scott died while living with another woman hundreds of miles from Zelda.

Zelda and Scott in 1926, Getty Images
Zelda frequently felt unappreciated and suffocated in her relationship with Scott, which was heartbreaking to hear. At the same time, there were moments in the book when I wanted to smack Zelda for getting into trouble herself, or alternatively, for letting Scott walk all over her. Remember folks, the 1920s-40s was a very forward time for women, and Zelda was a confident, independent woman. So her acting like less was hard for me.

The book is largely about Zelda and Scott’s relationship and all of their problems. Issues of contention between the two felt very real to problems anyone could have, such as debts, friends, and infidelity (on both their parts).

Z is an excellent novel, well-written and gripping. Fowler definitely did her homework, and she cites her sources at the end. Despite it being a piece of fiction, the dialogue felt very real, and Fowler did an excellent job of telling the story. I kind of wanted more of Zelda's story after her sickness took hold, and the book felt more rushed toward the end. Nonetheless, it was an excellent read. Whether you are familiar with the Fitzgeralds or not, this book is a great story. Also, if you are a Gatsby fan, it’s a good follow-up and backstory for you.

If you like Z, I’d also recommend The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which takes place in the same time period, and deals with some of the same people. It is told from Ernest Hemingway’s wife’s point of view. (FYI-Z does not paint a good picture of Hemingway).

If you are looking for more Zelda and Scott, another fact-based fiction book is Beautiful Fools: the last affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald by R. Clifton Spargo.

I’d also recommend you read some of Scott and Zelda’s works (yes, she was a writer too!). Some of the stories attributed to Scott were actually Zelda’s.

Or you could go the nonfiction route and read biographies, letters, and recollections of the"it couple" of the twenties. 


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