The second I saw Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler listed on NetGalley I knew I had to read it. I have been a fan of the Fitzgeralds since I read The Great Gatsby in high school. I am enamored by the legend that surrounds them and the other great writers of that age: Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Max Perkins. Z follows in the tradition of Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, That Summer in Paris by Morely Callaghan and Everybody Was So Young by Amanda Vaill – a fictionalized telling of the time. The story that is told is one we know well, the difference this time, however, is that Zelda is the center of attention rather than a mere spectator.
Fowler has chosen a formidable character in Zelda. She has often been regarded as a Jazz age playgirl whose life, in the end, goes helter skelter. That rendition of her life is far too simple and Fowler does a good job at filling in the gaps. Most importantly, Fowler gives Zelda’s motivation for many of the antics that she is know for. The interplay between Zelda and Scott shows just how troubled Scott was and how his cruelty pushed Zelda over the edge.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of Z is the way in which Fowler depicts Zelda’s fraught relationship with Hemingway. The animosity between the two of them has often been commented upon, but never explored. I don’t know how much of Fowler’s rendering is grounded in fact but she places a plausible scenario before us to consider.
Who would like this book? Overall, I recommend this book very highly, particularly if you are a fan of the Fitzgeralds and the Lost Generation. It is well, written, well told and well researched. Yes, it is a story you’ve heard before, but the perspective is considerably different this time around. I imagine Z will become a book club favorite in much the same way as Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife and Tanis Rideout’s Above All Things have. There seems to be a certain trend in literature right now to retell the stories of the wives of famous men. This I find slightly troubling, as though these women are only of note because of who they are married to. I feel that Z escapes this trend to a certain extent as Zelda is continually striving to find definition for herself outside of the role of wife. In fact, by the end of the novel being referred to as Scott’s wife is almost enough to send her back to a mental institution.