Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Z - Therese Anne Fowler

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
This is a book I have had On Reserve for ages. I mean, years, I think. Pretty much ever since it was published in early 2013. 

The premise is this: the life of Zelda Fitzgerald is fictionalized and presented as historical fiction with Zelda herself as narrator. 

If you are anything like me, most of what you know of Zelda Fitzgerald comes from the periphery of your F. Scott knowledge. After all, her husband remains one of the most iconic American novelists ever to have lived. Most of us think of her as Nicole Driver in Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night - hardly an unbiased portrayal. Or we know her from the vivacious portrayal in Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris

Interestingly, almost all of the images we are given of Zelda are offered up by men. I don't find this to be unimportant or insignificant in an attempt to get to the truth of her life. Was she really as crazy and unstable as Fitzgerald makes her out to be in his work? Was she all fun and games, the model Jazz Age flapper? 

The truth, as always, lies in the middle, I am certain. Therese Anne Fowler takes that tack with her novel, offering Zelda more complexity and more grace than she receives most other places. Fowler certainly does not portray Zelda as flawless or innocent in all matters. But, she also gives her a good deal more wiggle room when it comes to her mental state. Granted, in Fowler's approach, Zelda herself is our narrator. She'd hardly self-identify as crazy. Few do. 

The story is surprisingly light for its fairly serious content. Unwanted pregnancy, fertility problems, discord within marriage, alcoholism, physical and mental health struggles, jealousy, and family tensions all present themselves as important players in the Fitzgerald story. Though, to most of the world, they seemed the quintessential couple of the age, their actual life together was riddled with heartache. Two creative types rarely live in bliss, especially when the success of one so far outshines the other (see: Jason Robert Brown's phenomenal musical The Last Five Years). 

I am not typically one for fictionalized accounts of actual events, such as this book. I tend to prefer reading an actual biography. And, that is something I definitely want to do now. I have no illusions that Fowler's fiction presents the unbiased view missing from other fictional accounts. So, while I am aware I still do not know Zelda's whole story, Z proved enough to draw me in further. This woman lived an extraordinary life and was an extraordinary person. After so many years of being overshadowed by her husband,  I think we need to hear more of her story. 

If you like these types of novels, you'll definitely enjoy Z. I would also recommend it to anyone who particularly enjoys Jazz Age history. If you like The Great Gatsby, this real-life account, which gives a glimpse into its making, would definitely strike your interest. 

Pages: 384
Date Completed: November 15, 014

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