Having only read The Great Gatsby this last year, I can’t say I’ve given much thought to F. Scott Fitzgerald the man. I certainly never thought much about his wife until the day I came upon Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald on the shelves of my local library. As a devotee of historical fiction, I couldn’t resist! The novelization of Zelda’s life as the wife of the man who is now considered one of the great American novelists promised a story of love, art, and the Jazz Age (which I had no idea was a term coined by Mr. Fitzgerald himself). It did NOT disappoint.
When we first meet her, Zelda is not yet Mrs. Fitzgerald. She is Zelda Sayre, the youngest daughter of a family deeply rooted in Southern fame and tradition. Already showing signs of the modern woman she would become, Zelda is a free spirit who stays out dancing with her friends and flirts with the Army boys in town waiting to ship off to fight in the Great War. One Army boy in particular catches her eye, Lt. Scott Fitzgerald. A Yankee and aspiring novelist, he is immediately shunned by her family as a completely improper choice for Zelda. But the heart wants what it wants, and within a few years of meeting they are married and start their whirlwind life in New York City. Zelda suddenly finds herself running in circles with the likes of Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway—a generation of aspiring musicians, artists, and writers who would shape their fields for years to come.
First of all, I must praise the level of detail Therese Anne Fowler went to to bring this story to life. I really felt as if I’d read an autobiography, not a work of fiction. Zelda is so thoroughly developed, her thoughts and insights into her world completely relatable despite the distance in time. I loved reading about all these people you learn about in high school English hanging out, trying to make history with their writing, unaware of just how influential their work would become. I could almost feel myself sitting in those bars, on those beaches, in their salons.
The second thing I loves about it was how much art imitated life when it came to Fitzgerald’s work. I got the feeling he thought of himself as Gatsby, or a man much like him. And I loved that Zelda was forever inspiring his female characters. It’s sad to think that someone who became so beloved by readers the world over never lived to see his success, and didn’t enjoy the start of his legacy nearly as much as he could have. They were definitely stuck in an interesting time in history. So many modern ideas were taking shape, like women working outside the home, and yet they still struggled with the embedded ideals of their parents’ generation. I think Zelda was definitely ahead of her time in her desire to express herself creatively, independent of her husband.
Overall, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is a great read for anyone who already loves the Fitzgeralds and those who wish to get to know more about them alike. If you’re the type of person who likes to know the behind the scenes and real life stories of celebrities, you will definitely enjoy this book.
Pick up your copy!