Z: the "it could be true" story of Zelda Fitzgerald
There are all sorts of ways to write historical fiction (and, really, I love them all). But perhaps the one that is most rare, difficult and often leaves itself open to sweeping criticisms is this: when the time period and events are well documented, the historical figure is well known, but there are gaping holes in their story which the author tries to fill with what they think most likely took place. It does not fit into the biography genre because there is not enough information to support the character's every action, but it is heavily researched and, really, "it could be true."
Therese Anne Fowler does an incredible job of practically leaping Zelda Fitzgerald off the page. She beautifully and dynamically captures the excitement of the Roaring 20's, the passionate young love of the Fitzgeralds, the struggles of two young and independent artists trying to live symbiotically, and the tragedy of their fated demise. She also deftly crushes every rumor you have ever heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "crazy" wife.
I should say now that I was born a Minnesota girl and indeed, we love to lay claim to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I mean, who wouldn't? He's an evocative and exciting writer who was at the forefront of an era of literature that brought us into the modern age. He also stole, if not the actual words, event and plot lines from his wife's diaries. And later in their lives, her short stories were being published under his name. "Mr Fitzgerald...seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home," Zelda cheekily, and famously, said when asked to review THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAMNED. To start to understand the real Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, we must first wipe away the lies we've been told surrounding her life. She was not the woman who killed Fitzgerald's career. She was not crazy, figuratively or medically.* She was an effervescent personality who lit up whichever room she was in, with an insatiable thirst to live a full life, and a brilliant artistic mind which she expressed through talents in watercolor, dance and, yes, writing.
In "Z" we meet a young Zelda Sayre on the day she meets the man who will forever alter the direction of her life. We watch their love grow, and struggle, and grow some more - the courtship is sweet and leaves you immediately enchanted with these two souls who will eventually become the Golden Couple of the Roaring 20's. We follow Zelda as she moves to New York and is presented with gifts, parties, adventure and a lifestyle that she had never even dreamed of. Seemingly, the path is laid for a modern day fairytale, but as we all know, eventually we must leave Neverland. As the book moves along, we see the Fitzgeralds through high times and low; but, since it is told from Zelda's perspective, we get a previously untold intimate look into what it must have been to be an independent woman, at the turn of the century, pushed into following in the wake of her husband. Please don't think this is a man-hating manifesto of a stifled woman - Fowler consistently throughout reminds us of the ties that bind their love so strongly, and that Zelda's continual choice to stay in this relationship is always her own.
It's interesting to note that Zelda never considered herself a feminist and kept a wide berth from the suffragettes. But nonetheless, she is. You will be fascinated by the powerhouse this woman can be, and frustrated with her inability to be just a bit more brave, and heartbroken as you watch the slow and inevitable demise of her life. She is certainly not without her faults, but where history passed harsh judgement on her actions, we see there is far more than first meets the eye. What Fowler has given us is a chance to better understand the woman behind the man, and to give Zelda a chance to set the record straight.
This book is vastly interesting, with a cast of characters you can only dream to find in a room together - except in the salons of Paris, they truly were. There's scandal and misdeeds, intrigue and gossip, art and life, excitement and melodrama - it's everything we love about the Roaring 20's put onto the page of a fantastically fun summer read.
Therese Anne Fowler
*There are some doctors who, having reexamined the circumstances around Zelda Fitzgerald's poor health, believe Zelda's symptoms reveal she suffered from bipolar disorder. Others claim is was likely depression, or manic depression. Almost all agree that her diagnosis of schizophrenia was incorrect and the treatments she recieved because of it would lead to later health troubles in her life.