The golden girl of the Jazz Age, America’s literary first lady, F. Scott’s muse — she’s known by many names, though not all as honorable as these. Montgomery belle Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, like a multi-faceted diamond, found herself in several roles throughout her never-dull life. While the saying “behind every great man is a great woman” has resonated through the years, author Therese Anna Fowler’s novel, Z, shows this statement is more convoluted than it may appear. The novel breaches the illusion and mystery of the Twenties, fraught with flappers, booze and elegance, to reveal a much darker side of paradise.In some ways, Therese Fowler follows Jay Gatsby’s famous statement that you can indeed repeat the past as she recreates what could be called the Fitzgerald era. From her days as a young Southern debutante full of energy and opportunity, to her dark end, Fowler traces the steps of Zelda through numerous countries and circumstances. By re-creating dialogue, thoughts and letters, she reveals a more human side and allows Zelda to become known more for individuality rather than her role as Mrs. Fitzgerald. Assuming the voice of Zelda, among other famed Twenties authors, artists and socialites, Fowler proves her literary talent through thorough research and unparalleled imagination. The text transcends the novel form and becomes more diary-like, allowing readers to almost visualize Zelda herself telling her story.Although the writing is seamless, readers should not expect a story as flawless and chic as its cover appears. The words flow off the page much like a Lana del Rey song — intricately woven, but not without their share of sensuality and darkness. Beginning as an untainted love story, set in the sweltering Alabama heat, the novel is arguably at the height of happiness in the foremost pages. The couple moves to New York, then to France, Italy and numerous other venues, always in search of the perfect setting for Fitzgerald’s next hit novel. While Zelda follows her husband, as a good wife should, she doesn’t sit by idly watching her husband’s rise to fame. She pushes the boundaries and seeks to find her own talent, be it writing, dancing or painting. As expected, Scott, who views himself as the true talent of the pair, becomes less and less enamored by his wife’s attempts to live a life outside of him.Maintaining her roles as perfect mother, beautiful party girl and supportive wife burdens Zelda and only increases the growing dissatisfaction and divide in her relationship with Scott. What ensues is nothing short of dramatic, enough to drive anyone crazy. Drunken parties that last until daylight, scandalous affairs, rumors and quarrels that turn into battles frequent the couple’s lives. Scott’s bad-boy behavior and friendship with Ernest Hemingway, Zelda’s worst enemy, sparks the question, “Which does Scott love more — Zelda or alcohol?” Zelda, not unmoved by his actions, seems to wonder the same, leading her into a dark spiral of depression. While it’s certain that Zelda was haunted by mental instability and suffered numerous breakdowns during her life, the lingering question remains — what was the cause of her mental collapse? While many have argued she suffered from bipolar disorder, the fact remains that she and Scott’s relationship was a formidable one. Whether the incessant fighting caused or merely escalated her condition, Zelda’s final days were nothing like the glittering parties in which talking art with Pablo Picasso or critiquing the work of up-and-coming author Ernest Hemingway were as commonplace as buying a loaf of bread.Hitting bookshelves concurrently with three other novels about the Fitzgeralds’ torturously lavish lives and the long-awaited Baz Luhrmann rendition of The Great Gatsby, the novel pushes its way to the top of the flapper-inspired tales. Centering on the untold story of Zelda in a diary-like format, Fowler provides an irresistible and opinion-changing view of the icon some 65 years after her tragic death. As was the Roaring Twenties, the parties were bigger, the booze stronger and the crashing downfall more tragic than ever before.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Author Therese Anne Fowler unveils the dark side of paradise for Jazz-era celebutante Zelda Fitzgerald.
Review by Lindsee Gentry