Reviews for Z : A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald


Booklist Reviews 2013 February #2
Novelist Fowler (Exposure, 2011) considered it fate that she would write about Zelda, the wife of celebrated writer Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald: the author's mother and the famous flapper passed away on the same day. In this frothy offering, readers glimpse the glorious lives of the rich and famous of the Jazz Age. From the moment gorgeous Zelda laid eyes on her officer husband, her days were filled with magical moments, as Scott began to receive critical acclaim, and the pair navigated a social circuit graced by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Tallulah Bankhead, and Gertrude Stein. But the high life dropped low when Fitzgerald's good fortune began to fizzle, and his already excessive drinking increased. As her husband grew more distant and distracted, Zelda fell into the arms of a charming Frenchman, but she gave up the romance in hopes of saving her marriage. Could the dazzling literary "It" couple ever find its way back to bliss? Fowler renders rich period detail in this portrayal of a fascinating woman both blessed--and cursed--by fame. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2013 April
Giving Zelda ‘a fair shake' in a fictional memoir

Popular understanding of Zelda Fitzgerald has her pegged as something between two of F. Scott’s notorious female characters: devastating Rosalind from This Side of Paradise and vacuous Gloria from The Beautiful and Damned. Add a dollop of insanity, and that’s our Zelda. But as Therese Anne Fowler reveals in her new novel, Z, that’s not the whole story.

F. Scott’s legendary wife, as defined by media, literature and time, is less a real woman and more a mythical flapper creature. She is remembered as impulsive, usually drunk and eventually schizophrenic, and together she and Scott ruled the Jazz Age as American royalty. That’s the myth, and when Fowler first considered writing Z, it was all she knew.

“All I thought I knew about her was that she was Scott’s crazy wife,” Fowler says from her home in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I just couldn’t imagine that writing about a crazy person would be very interesting except in a Mommie Dearest sort of way.”

As it turns out, Zelda wasn’t crazy. She was probably misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and more likely suffered from bipolar disorder. Her wild behavior in New York has also been exaggerated over time (though she did jump from a table down a flight of stairs). “She’s made out to be this sort of diva,” says Fowler. “I have included some of those incidents, but I think they do not stand out quite as vividly because I’m offsetting them with day-to-day truths of her life, the struggle.”

That’s the side of Zelda that has been forgotten by history, memorialized only in letters—her diaries cannot be found—and resurrected now in fiction: She was a mother and a wife, grappling with an identity separate from her marriage, split between the Southern sensibilities of her youth and the modern, feminist ideas she encountered in Paris. “Zelda is sort of hamstrung by being raised a traditional Southern girl, and then she lived in this world of rapid women’s rights developments and never seemed to be able to be one or the other of those women,” Fowler explains. “She would’ve been much happier if she’d identified one way or the other.”

This humanized Zelda is markedly less glamorous and therefore less of what we might want her to be. But Fowler maintains that the inexperienced, lost Zelda depicted in Z is much closer to the truth. “I have not taken liberties with the story or characterization in any case, in any character throughout the book,” Fowler says. “[The story] that pop culture has shown [readers] previously is an over-hyped misrepresentation. Zelda will get the fair shake that she didn’t get in her own lifetime.”

Zelda tells the story in her own words, in what could be called a “fictional memoir” that begins with a siren call: “Look closer and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we have seemed.” From there, Zelda takes readers to her childhood home in Alabama, where she first meets a dashing young F. Scott, and then to New York City, where they decide to act like characters from his first novel to draw the public eye, thus beginning their scandalous reign over NYC.

It is not until they move to Europe that the label of “wife” starts to conflict with Zelda’s own aspirations, but when she seeks careers in dance, art and writing, Scott’s jealousy creeps in. Throughout her life, Zelda’s identity is inextricably aligned with Scott’s career—Scott defined the Jazz Age as a whole, and Zelda’s identity in particular, and she could never disconnect from that. This is her great tragedy.

Juicy scenes, such as boozy stunts and rumors of an affair between Scott and Hemingway, add spice to a relatively simple story of a disintegrating marriage. Perhaps the only scene in which Fowler takes fiction’s liberties is when Hemingway propositions Zelda.

“[That scene is] deductive based on everything that I could find about their relationship,” says Fowler, who could find no historic evidence as to why Zelda and Hemingway never got along. “I wasn’t ramping it up, so to speak, for the purpose of story. I thought, ‘This is just something this guy does.’ ”

Z introduces an arguably more flattering Zelda, but Scott loses his golden-boy veneer (as Hemingway does in Paula McLain’s novel, The Paris Wife). At his worst, he is an obtuse bully and an insecure fool. “We have these preconceived ideas of him partially based on anecdotal stuff . . . and also [from] reading his work,” explains Fowler, who filtered Scott’s worst out of the book. “We see this thoughtful, compassionate, tender person behind the story. Nobody who writes the kinds of things he wrote could be otherwise, but the truth of it is, he was a man of the times and he did have some struggles.”

While Fowler blames neither Scott nor Zelda for the ruin of their marriage, she has found that readers often take sides, and she expects criticism from “Team Scott.”

“For me to tell this story and to give it the verisimilitude that it deserved, if I wanted to stand up against the critical eye that’s going to be brought to it, I couldn’t make it a polemic in the way biographers seem to get away with,” Fowler says. “I didn’t think that would be fair to either of them.”

No matter which side they’re on, readers will find Z to be an intimate look at the collapse of a fascinating celebrity marriage through the eyes of a woman who defies expectations. “Her voice, her letters, her essays and her short fiction were all so clear and accessible and humorous and wry,” Fowler says. “She wasn’t out there trying to be anyone’s hero except maybe her own, and not doing such a great job at that, either. I think she fought the good fight in the end. I think that’s one of the reasons I admire her.”

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 January #1
The Jazz Age revisited through the tumultuous and harrowing life of Zelda. Fowler's Zelda is all we would expect and more, for she's daring and unconventional yet profoundly and paradoxically rooted in Southern gentility. (Her father, after all, was a judge in Montgomery, Ala.) Once she meets the handsome Scott, however, her life takes off on an arc of indulgence and decadence that still causes us to shake our heads in wonder. The early years are sublime, for both Scott and Zelda are high-spirited, passionate and deeply committed to each other. There's even a touching navet in the immoderation of their lives, a childlike awe in their encountering the confection of Paris for the first time. With the success of This Side of Paradise, Scott quickly becomes lionized, and life becomes an endless series of parties. Fowler reminds us of the astonishing social circle within which the Fitzgeralds lived and moved and had their being--soires with Picasso and his mistress, with Cole Porter and his wife, with Gerald and Sara Murphy, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound and Jean Cocteau. Scott's friendship with Hemingway verges on a love affair--at least it's close enough to one to make Zelda jealous. We witness Zelda's increasing desperation to establish her own identity--rather difficult when Scott "claims" some of her stories as his own. She also studies ballet and gets an invitation to join a dance company in Italy, but Scott won't allow her to leave. He bullies her, and she fights back. Ultimately, both of these tragic, pathetic and grand characters are torn apart by their inability to love or leave each other. Fowler has given us a lovely, sad and compulsively readable book. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 October #1

Fowler won an LJ star for her 2008 debut, Souvenir, then settled comfortably into fraught contemporary relationship territory. Here she does something entirely different, reimagining the tumultuous life of Zelda Fitzgerald. A big burst of publisher enthusiasm for this book.

[Page 54]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 January #1

Fowler's (Exposure) latest novel is a biographical sketch of Zelda Fitzgerald, the beautiful but troubled wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Born Zelda Sayre in Alabama, she is a Southern belle whose energy and indulgences prompt her to follow Fitzgerald north to New York City and later to Paris. Tumultuous love, literary jealousies, alcoholism, and masculine rivalries all play key roles in the drama of American literature's "It" couple. The Fitzgeralds mingle with Jazz Age greats including Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Pablo Picasso. Zelda's continuous attempts to escape the shadow of her famous husband and assert her own artistic identity often end in bitter arguments and ultimately lead to her insanity. Though there are many biographies of the Fitzgeralds, Fowler's well-researched fictional account provides a tender, intimate exploration of a complicated and captivating woman. VERDICT This will appeal to readers of American and literary history, women's studies, or poignant romances. While it doesn't offer anything new to the Fitzgerald story, Fowler's detailed prose will certainly spark fresh interest in the most famous couple of the Roaring Twenties. [See Prepub Alert, 9/10/12; interested readers might also want to try Zelda's only (and autobiographical) novel, Save Me the Waltz--Ed.]--Shannon Marie Robinson, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

[Page 84]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
Fowler's (Exposure) latest novel is a biographical sketch of Zelda Fitzgerald, the beautiful but troubled wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Born Zelda Sayre in Alabama, she is a Southern belle whose energy and indulgences prompt her to follow Fitzgerald north to New York City and later to Paris. Tumultuous love, literary jealousies, alcoholism, and masculine rivalries all play key roles in the drama of American literature's "It" couple. The Fitzgeralds mingle with Jazz Age greats including Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Pablo Picasso. Zelda's continuous attempts to escape the shadow of her famous husband and assert her own artistic identity often end in bitter arguments and ultimately lead to her insanity. Though there are many biographies of the Fitzgeralds, Fowler's well-researched fictional account provides a tender, intimate exploration of a complicated and captivating woman. VERDICT This will appeal to readers of American and literary history, women's studies, or poignant romances. While it doesn't offer anything new to the Fitzgerald story, Fowler's detailed prose will certainly spark fresh interest in the most famous couple of the Roaring Twenties. [See Prepub Alert, 9/10/12; interested readers might also want to try Zelda's only (and autobiographical) novel, Save Me the Waltz --Ed.] --Shannon Marie Robinson, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 February #3

Jazz Age legends F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald come into focus in Fowler's rich debut. The famous couple have a whirlwind courtship in Montgomery, Ala., where Scott was briefly stationed at the end of WWI, and Zelda was the talk of the town. Then Fowler unfolds the next 20 years: the couple's New York celebrity after This Side of Paradise; the years in Paris with the other "Lost Generation" expats; and their return to the U.S. to treat Zelda's schizophrenia. Fowler is a close study of their famously tumultuous relationship, sparing no detail by following the Fitzgeralds through the less glamorous parts of their lives and the more obscure moments of history, including Zelda's obsession with ballet and the strained relationship she had with their daughter, Scottie. Most consistently, Zelda is worried about money, her husband's alcoholism and lack of productivity, and her own desire for recognition. Although obviously well researched, Zelda, who splashed in the Union Square fountain and sat atop taxi cabs, doesn't have, in Fowler's hands, the edge that history suggests. Fowler portrays a softer, more anxious Zelda, but loveable nonetheless, whose world is one of textured sensuality. Announced first printing of 150,000. Agent: Wendy Sherman, Wendy Sherman Associates. (Apr.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

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