Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD by THERESE ANNE FOWLER
TWO ROADS BOOKS
Everything is fiction. Our memories and our yesterdays. The conversations inside our heads, and with others. Lovers, children, colleagues, friends; the way we think of them, the way we see and hear and smell and touch and taste them: all made up. They are as we want them to be, their histories rewritten to embellish, enhance and disguise our own. Isn't fiction just another word for perspective – and can perspective be anything other than a point of view?
Whatever it is, here's a story about all of that and none of it, a novel about lovers who really lived, their reckless lives revisited and re-imagined. A book to break your heart, Therese Anne Fowler's 'Z: A novel of Zelda Fitzgerald' is a brave exploration of the blurring. Shredded and in mourning as I turned the last page, I wept, as I hadn't done in years.
Wretched Zelda Sayre, the so-called 'First Flapper' of the Jazz Age, whose charmed life seems to have been cursed from the moment she set eyes on F. Scott Fitzgerald, was out of time. As the born-to-be-wild daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge, there were appearances to be kept up, behavioural codes to be adhered to. But teenage Zelda was already shrinking from the thought of a dutiful family future in the backwater yellowhammer state. There had to be more to life, as her childhood playmate Tallulah Bankhead knew ahead of her. Awake, and aware - of a changing between-wars world, of emancipation, of a profound inner smouldering to express, and to create - Zelda craved an enabler. Scott longed for a muse. Theirs was a marriage made in hell.
Their honeymoon sealed their fate. Behind an illusion of wealth and marital bliss, the celebrated pair lived it up in New York, Paris and all over the Riviera. They were sucked, as they went, into a vortex of alcohol addiction, profligacy, jealousy both sexual and professional, creative rivalry and ultimately mental torment. Choked by Scott's public profile, capsized by his obsessive friendship with Ernest Hemingway, Zelda flailed for the life raft of personal identity. She wrote – short stories with a joint Fizgerald byline, or that were published (outrageously) under his name only; and a single, autobiographical novel, 'Save Me the Waltz', which appeared in 1934. She painted, too, and even ballet-danced herself almost to death. She was a talented woman, married to an insecure control freak who belittled and ridiculed her while maintaining undying love. Which of the two was nuts here?
Was it frustration over thwarted potential, over-indulgence in the hallucinogenic Absinthe, her husband's exposure of her as the shallow, self-obsessed Daisy Buchanan living an uptown, Long Island life cluttered with silly distractions in Scott's piece de resistance 'The Great Gatsby' (1925) that rip-rugged Zelda? The author leaves us in no doubt as to her thoughts about that.
Promising lives frittered. The inexorable finitude of existence. Yet here we are … F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the most revered American authors of the 20th Century. Failed, crumpled Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, esteemed feminist icon. You couldn't make it up, and Therese Anne Fowler didn't. All that she did was breathe it back to life. Bewitchingly.
All, in the end, is pointless. All is fiction. As such, this is as good as it gets.