Strategically published amidst the buzz generated by Baz Luhrmann’s take on Gatsby, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald chronicles the life of F. Scott’s long suffering wife and her desperate attempts towards autonomy.
Told from Zelda’s perspective, the novel relates her initial hesitance to become entangled with the struggling young author. Seemingly encouraged by her parents’ disapproval, however, Zelda agrees to marry Fitzgerald upon the publication of his first book, This Side of Paradise. The two go on to lead a life of non-stop partying and minor celebrity. Along the way, the Fitzgeralds have a child and, much to Zelda’s dismay, F. Scott develops a questionable bromance with Ernest Hemingway. Zelda pushes Scott in her efforts towards individuality, and he forcibly pushes back and seeks comfort with Ernie.
This type of novel is running rampant right now. The Aviator’s Wife. The Paris Wife. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. All of these offer an insider’s perspective regarding the life and marriage of a public figure. Although I’ve only trudged through three out of four of these trite tales, I am consistently struggling to remember that they are fictional accounts. I like to spout out random facts as much as possible, and there have been several occasions where I have wanted to present elements from Fowler’s novel as fact. Then I realize that that tidbit is probably just fictional fluff. So now I have to read an actual biography about this woman that I really don’t care about just so I can find out which facts were stretched by Fowler. I should know better by now, since The Aviator’s Wife frustrated me so much that I resorted to reading the nonfiction Cemetery John just to have an accurate grasp of the police investigation surrounding the Lindbergh baby.
The main issue in question is Zelda’s mental state. Traditionally, any biographical information regarding F. Scott always includes the obligatory mention of his crazy wife. Fowler presents Zelda as the product of a traumatic marriage. Zelda repeatedly attempts to step out from behind her husband’s shadow, but each time she is broaching on success, he thwarts her out of resentment and jealousy. He allegedly stoops so low as to have her committed in a mental institution rather than have her publish a work solely under her name. I have no idea if this is true, but now I feel obligated to find out. Stay tuned.
My love/hate relationship with historical fiction aside, Fowler’s novel is solid and her narrative style is compelling. The Fitzgeralds were a complicated yet fascinating couple. Well, at least Fowler’s version of them is.