Rummanah Aasi
  There is a growing trend in historical fiction for adults that are revisiting the lives of famous artists/authors through the eyes of their wives/lovers. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan is a huge bestselling novel that centers on Frank Lloyd Wright and Martha Cheney was published in 2009. Two years later, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which details the love story between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Mowrer, became a hot pick and this year's highly recommended novel Z details the lives of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are two more highly buzzed books set to release in a few months about Edgar Allen Poe in Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen and Robert Louis Stevenson in Wide Starry Sky by Nancy Horan.

Description: 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?

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is a lovely, sad and compulsively readable book. It is a common misconception that Zelda Fitzgerald was the reason for F. Scott Fitzgerald's ruin, but Fowler does a great job in making Zelda a three dimensional character and a woman who is struggling to make her own identity outside of her husband's shadow. 
  It's very rare to completely disappear in a historical fiction novel, though details are present of the setting and ambiance you always get the sense that you are a distant from the characters. In Z Fowler's depiction of the Jazz Age is so immaculate that you don't merely revisit the time period but are virtually there witnessing the crazy dinner parties. The setting and details are exactly what we expected but the author goes beyond the superficial and gets to the heart of its subject matter.
  I was really surprised how much I liked Zelda as a character. Sure she was daring, unconventional, and self centered at times but she was also very traditional and paradoxically rooted in her Southern culture. The book briefly touches upon her childhood but mainly focuses on her life's whirlwind journey after she meets the handsome and charming Scott, a budding writer who is about to become famous. The lives Zelda and Scott shared were indulgent and decadent, leaving no securities for future emergencies. I couldn't help but shake my head in wonder how anyone could live their life so recklessly, but that was the rage of the Roaring Twenties. 
  The early years of their marriage are sublime, for both Scott and Zelda are high-spirited, passionate and deeply committed to each other. It's obvious that they adored one another, but there also many reflective moments where Zelda pauses to think how much Scott wanted her to play the role of a celebrity: always present wearing the most expensive and provocative clothes at parties, be charming but don't talk too much, and always try to bring the spotlight back to him. Zelda at first goes along with her husband, relishing the latest fashions, meeting, and even being a celebrity herself but she later realizes that Scott doesn't really want a wife present but a trophy to carry around. Soon all is temporarily forgotten when a chance to travel and live in Paris arises. There is a childlike awe in traveling to Paris, the hub of intellectual creativity, where they had an extensive and astonishing social circle that included Picasso and his mistress, with Cole Porter and his wife, with Gerald and Sara Murphy, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound and Jean Cocteau, Hemingway and Hadley. 
  With the success of This Side of Paradise, Scott quickly believes he is the greatest author alive, and life becomes an endless series of parties. His drinking escalates to the point where he was to drink in order to stay focused. The Fitzgerald's interactions with the Hemingway in particular highlights the flaws of both characters and their troubled marriage. Scott is so obsessed with being "the American author" that he catalyzes Zelda's own unhappiness and nervous breakdown, leading her to an asylum (she was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic at the time and would now me diagnosed as having biopolar depression). We witness Zelda's increasing desperation to establish her own identity- she writes stories that Scott "claims" as his own to sell to the publisher when they desperately needed the money. She was also an artist who loved to paint and a great dancer. She in fact studied ballet and gets an invitation to join a dance company in Italy, but Scott won't allow her to leave. He bullies her, and she fights back. Their pull and tug relationship is made Zelda and Scott so alluring and memorable for readers. I know that as soon as I finished Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, I wanted to read This Side of Paradise all over again. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is language and sexual situations in the novel. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Romantic Egoists: Pictorial autobiography from the scrapbooks and albums of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck, Wide Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (released on January 2014)
5 Responses
  1. This sounds absolutely wonderful, Rummanah! I love that it takes you right to the era and that the experience is so vivid. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald is more popular than ever these days, and I'd be very interested in reading about this, obssessive side of him, and of course about Zelda. It sounds like she suffered a great injustice merely because she was married to a megalomaniac.
    Wonderful review!

  2. I think the first time I saw this was on your blog you were featuring it for a Waiting on Wednesday? It sounds like a riveting read and I am sure that Zelda was a fascinating woman. I imagine it would have been very difficult to remain married to Scott after he became the "American Author".

  3. Candace Says:

    Oh wow, I want to go there! I love books that take place in the 20's but add in a real historical couple (even if it is fiction) and it's even better! This sounds fantastic!

  4. I knew a bit about Fitzgerald's marriage from having to read The Great Gatsby in high school English. It's always interesting the perspective of the spouse of a famous person.

  5. This sounds interesting. I'm always torn about things involving historical figures, but this one does sound good!

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