Friday, January 31, 2014

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Therese Anne Fowler
375 pages

"Lord help me, I miss him. I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we're ruined, who thinks Scott's beyond washed-up and I'm about as sharp these days as a sack of wet mice, Look closer.
Look closer and you'll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed." -page 5
When Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is young and beautiful at seventeen years old and he is a dashing army lieutenant. Scott immediately falls in love with her independence and liking for reckless behavior. He promises his writing will bring him fame, and it does, when This Side of Paradise is published in 1920 and earns raving popularity. Zelda, falling in love with his charisma and intelligence, quickly boards a train to New York City where they are married at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The years following are full of lavish parties and endless meet and greets, but even Jay Gatsby's parties never last forever...and soon Zelda and Scott are spiraling downwards, just as quickly as they had risen to the top.
I found it especially interesting to read about a time when being popular meant you were highly-educated, and could speak critically of the arts - not that you wore your skirt too short or were the star of some reality TV show. Scott and Zelda are said to have been America's first "celebrity couple" but, Fowler not only addresses in Z what the public saw, but focuses primarily on what they didn't.
Scott and Zelda's early years of marriage were frivolous and fun, but Zelda quickly tired of their frequent location changes, and all of the attention Scott received, while she received so little. In fact, Fowler spends much time in the novel focusing on Zelda's writing career - a career very few people knew she had. Zelda published 11 short stories in her lifetime, but almost all of them were published under the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald because The Saturday Evening Post didn't believe they would sell otherwise.
Zelda was also an artist, and a ballet dancer, but dancing (as well as her over-consumption of alcohol), is ultimately what drove her to madness. She was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 1930, although doctors of the 21st century believe the diagnosis should have been bipolar disorder. Zelda was obsessed with the mark she would leave on the world, as she didn't want to just be "Scott's wife". Although she was not involved in the fight for women's suffrage, Zelda is considered today as a member of the first-wave feminist movement, because of her undying determination to not live the life of a housewife.
After the publication of Z, Fowler answered the question "Was Zelda 'crazy'?" :
"Zelda did suffer some mental health crises -- depression, primarily -- and was an uninhibited, uncensored woman who didn't always think before she acted, but she wasn't crazy. Unwise? Sometimes. Insane? No."
Throughout the novel (and throughout her life I suppose) Zelda often contemplated getting a divorce from Scott. Her father had predicted before they had even married, that they would tire each other out, because they were both too independent and too one-minded. He was right of course, but Zelda said, "Scott, for all of his shortcomings, owned my heart." (page 186)
Even though Z is categorized as a work of fiction, it is very easy to tell that all elements are based on the truth. It is also easy to see that Scott drew many of the themes for his novels from his own life, especially from his marriage to Zelda. The following quote, said by Zelda makes Scott seem curiously similar to Jay Gatsby.
"He wanted his adoring flapper, his Jazz Age muse. He wanted to recapture a past that had never existed in the first place. He'd spent his life building what he'd seen as an impressive tower of stone and brick, and woken up to find is was only a little house of cards, sent tumbling now by the wind."   -page 346
I LOVED Zelda's voice in this novel, something about it was completely raw and truthful, as if she was opening up a book of dear secrets to a best friend. Fowler's use of letters, as well as prose, gives readers several different ways to learn Zelda's perspective. Zelda gives an interesting interpretation of Scott's relationship with Ernest Hemingway, and explores her friendship with Sara and Gerald Murphy. Both Hemingway, the Murphys, the Fitzgeralds, as well as Gertrude Stein (who we also meet in the novel) are perceived to be members of the "Lost Generation" - a group of artists and writers who fled America for the excitement of Paris during the roaring 20s.
Overall, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, was just that. A novel of Zelda. Every feeling of love, hatred, and confusion can be found in this novel that expresses the voice she struggled to have heard during her lifetime. There is no doubt that Zelda did leave a mark on this world - one that was inspirational and moving to so many American women.
Story Line - 8/10
Character's Voice - 10/10
Writing Style - 9/10

Overall - 27/30