Therese Anne Fowler: Z

“I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer…and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed.”

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? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it.

Oh how glamorous the Jazz Age always seems! The nonstop parties, overflowing booze, sparkling dresses! At least in fiction, there just never seems to be any sense of responsibility or time. Where does all this magic come from? It’s just there!

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were certainly caught up in all the magic of the age. In fact, they were right in the center of it all! But in Z, we get to see Zelda’s first-person account of just how fast real life catches up to you, and how the shine of all that jazz gets washed away when the booze flows a little too quickly.

My favorite part of this novel was all the name dropping–as it usually is in a book like this. I love seeing how famous people connect to each other across time. It allows me to realize time, and when people were at one place at one moment–with all the reading I do, sometimes I get my periods mixed around. Books like this are a great way for me to bring it all together.

There’s also a great amount of feminist discussion. Zelda is trying to figure out herself, her marriage, and all the toxicity that is happening to her and around her. Maybe this situation isn’t quite the healthiest? Watching her work it out herself was pretty heartbreaking, but also a battle many of us have waged ourselves–and I think it puts that inner conversation into real context.

Aside from those two strengths…I kind of found the book a little dull. I skimmed through the second half of it, and considered skipping on to something else. Scott’s self-destruction and whining got old pretty fast, and I would have liked to done away with that faster to turn the focus back on Zelda. But, good ol Fitz always had to have the spotlight, and I guess he had to have it here too. Unfortunately that made for a meh book in my opinion.

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