Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Reviewed by Nicole Romero
Upon hearing about this book, I was very excited to read Therese Anne Fowler’s “Z”. I mean, reading about the life of a rebellious flapper and her main squeeze (who just so happens to be a well known author) should be enough to explain my excitement. “Z” is a historical fiction novel told through the voice of Zelda Fitzgerald herself. Fowler lives up to my expectations when she describes the lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, while accentuating their status as one of the Jazz Age’s celebrity couples. Truly the life of every party, Zelda and Scott live life without fear of any negative repercussions. Zelda even claims at one point, “I was blissfully certain that I had everything I could ever want.” Through glitz and glamour, everything seems picture perfect, but in time their financial woes, an unexpected illness, and Scott’s thirst to be the greatest writer in the world finally slow down their lavish lifestyle.
From lewd affairs to substantial debts, the Fitzgeralds weren’t able to keep their private lives hidden for long. The downfall of the famous couple is seen throughout the book, with both Zelda and Scott engaging in intimate relationships outside of their marriage. Zelda describes the extramarital affair that she was involved in and almost left her husband for, while Scott’s many extramarital affairs are repeatedly acknowledged. In addition, she details the toll that Scott’s alcohol abuse takes on not only his own life, but his wife and daughter Scottie’s as well. At one point in the story, Scott tell Zelda “‘I’m drunk and we’re broke. Aren’t pronouns fun?’ Then he pulled his pockets inside out for effect. ‘I can’t even buy us lunch.'” The reader soon learns that this seems to be the ongoing theme for Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald.
It is difficult to imagine what life was like for women during the 1920s, but Fowler does a great job of portraying the inequalities that women faced during the Jazz Age. Since it is written in first person, the reader is introduced to the mindset of women during this time era, with Zelda constantly making excuses for the aggressive lifestyle her husband lives. She repeatedly dismisses his bad behavior and sometimes abusive antics because at the time, women were to be submissive to their husbands and thankful to be so well taken care of, according to Zelda. However, there is no doubt that in the midst of the bad habits and chaos, a true love lies somewhere beneath.
Ernest Hemingway’s infamous distaste for Zelda is described from Zelda’s point of view, as she dissects her reasoning for not being a fan of the womanizing author. In addition to constantly taking advantage of her husband’s name and money, Ernest also appears to be the devil on Scott’s shoulder encouraging him to leave his “mad wife.” Although the animosity between the two was ever-prevalent, Zelda considers herself a contributing factor to Ernest’s success, as she was not only Scott’s muse, but also his lucrative literary partner. Without Zelda by Scott’s side, he may never have been in the right place at the right time to meet and take Ernest under his wing.
Zelda also goes into detail to describe the unfortunate ways in which her growing ailments creep up on her. Fowler uses these instants to allow her readers to painlessly experience Zelda’s symptoms through a first person narrative. Regrettably, doctors in the 1920s were prone to misdiagnosing patients and were without the technological advances that would become available many years later. Fowler points out that patients in the 1920s were among the first to be introduced to modern medicine and we learn that misdiagnosis was indeed the case for Zelda. In addition to residing in medical facilities for treatments that would not be a solution for her illness, Zelda was also forced to leave her daughter behind. She blames her unstable health for the distance between her and Scottie, that would even last after Scott’s untimely death.
Although this is a work of fiction, Fowler explains in her Author’s Note that she tried to use the most credible sources and factual events to incorporate into her story. It is reassuring to know that most of the events in the book are somewhat true, as I am a lover of biographical pieces. I would most certainly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys taking a step back in time to learn about the woman who was the backbone of one of literature’s greatest writers.