Friday, 21 June 2013

Z a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler | Her story

So I'm not gonna pretend that I picked up this book for any other reason than nostalgia after watching the new movie version of The Great Gatsby. And it seemed like an interesting perspective - getting F. Scott Fitzgeralds' wife's story, especially considering how Fitzgerald has been accused of being a misogynist. This is Zelda's story - as a novel - but it is the story of Zelda's life with F. Scott, or Deo as she calls him.

 We follow Zelda from when she first meets Scott in 1918. Zelda is 18, beautiful, admired and impulsive. She loves to flirt and her evenings are preoccupied with entertaining soldiers waiting to be shipped off into the war. Among them is Scott, the aspiring author, the man who stands out and speaks to something deep inside Zelda. Although her parents oppose the match, Scott will win her, and soon they start their new married life in New York.

Zelda and Scott make up the perfect couple for the era. Glamorous and scandalous, Zelda quickly learns that she must publicly play a part to fit in with Scott's fiction of who they are. There's always a party, always booze, always an excuse to spend money. And as Scott's literary success increases, it seems that their lives are escalating more and more out of control.

In their quest for stability the couple travel from place to place, finally settling for a longer time in Paris. While Scott should be working on his new novel, he prefers pursuing his new bromance, Ernest Hemingway, a then aspiring author Zelda distrusts from day one. The more Zelda speaks up against Hemingway, the more Scott's esteem for her drops. Throughout their strife, Zelda keeps trying to find her own path. She wants to be more than wife and mother. She can write, she can paint, she can dance ballet, but Scott wants to keep these preoccupations in check.

The conflict between the couple becomes so strained that Zelda throws herself into an extreme ballet dancing routine. Ballet becomes her sole sense of achievement in life, as Scott seemingly cares less and less about her and her opinions. In her pursuit for perfection, however, Zelda throws herself head first into a mental breakdown.

Although this is a novel and not a biography, I feel that Fowler has succeeded extremely well in retaining a sense of truth. Zelda and Scott's relationship is complex and forever changing. There are infidelities, alcoholism and resentment, but also encouragement, compassion and loyalty, and a sense of belonging. Throughout the hardships they face, the love and the well wishes seem to survive. What is also beautiful is the humour between the two. And even though one might come away with the impression that Scott wronged Zelda, Zelda refuses to cast him off completely, and still sees a future for the two of them: "If I could fit myself into this mail slot, here, I'd follow my letter all the way to Hollywood, all the way to Scott, right up to the door of our next future. We have always had a next one, after all..." (p. 1-2, my italics).

I like the Zelda of this novel a lot. She might start out as a flapper, a glamorous party girl without a care in the world, but she grows to being an independent woman who thinks for herself and who is ready to fight for what she believes in. Z is both delightful and sad, and in the process of reading it, I find myself wanting to learn more about this woman and curse myself for not being more interested when I did American literary studies. What a woman, Zelda Fitzgerald! I am charmed and inspired. 

No comments: