Zelda narrates her own tale, beginning as an uninhibited Alabama teenager and moving through her marriage to an ambitious, as-yet-unknown writer, their years of notoriety, the birth of daughter Scottie, and their final tragic decline. Perhaps Fowler has filed some edges off the real Zelda’s personality to make her more sympathetic, but her daring and confidence still leap from the page.
The characterization avoids stereotypes, and all the name-dropping is done with purpose. Their social circle includes H. L. Mencken, Cole Porter, and Ernest Hemingway, the latter an attention-seeking “extra-manly man” whose complicated relationship with both Fitzgeralds is envisioned brilliantly (and controversially, no doubt). No major segments of their marriage are omitted, but the plot has a constant forward motion that ensures the reading is never dull.
The novel deftly explores the uneasy intersections between literature and real life, with Zelda embodying the brashness and style of Scott’s flapper heroines, and Zelda’s uphill battle for artistic acceptance is convincing and heartfelt. To earn them more money, her published writings were often credited at least partially to him, which she was deeply conflicted about – understandably so. With her engrossing novel about an unconventional heroine, Fowler makes a persuasive case that Zelda deserves to stand in her own spotlight.
This review was written up for May's Historical Novels Review, which was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had gotten a galley from a Shelf Awareness ad and picked it up after finishing several rather intense literary novels. I was eager to learn more about Zelda and be entertained. Then I got sucked into the story, and after determining that HNR hadn't gotten a copy of the book yet, I figured I should review it.
Therese Anne Fowler's Z was published by St. Martin's Press in April ($25.99/C$29.99, hb, 375pp).