I have no idea how real or imagined this novel of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is, but I found it better written and more entertaining than the other two wife-of-a-more-famous-man novels I've read in the last couple of year: The Paris Wife and The Aviator's Wife, not to mention the terrible novel I just couldn't get through, Hemingway's Girl.
Zelda was already a woman determined to cause scandal when she met F. Scott Fitzgerald just shy of her eighteenth birthday in Montgomery, Alabama. Zelda Sayre was from one of the town's first families, full of high spirits and hijinks, drawing attention wherever she went, with only her father's position as judge protecting her reputation from getting seriously marred. I loved these early chapters--partly because they're set in the South and I had no idea Zelda was Southern and partly because it's heartbreaking later in her life when she becomes invisible to the man who published his first novel just to prove his worth to her.
Life together is good at first, even exhilarating. Zelda and Scott take New York by storm, becoming the "it' couple, but little does Zelda know that they're living well beyond their means, borrowing money at every turn against expected sales of Scott's writing. Thus they move to Paris to live more cheaply (oh, that we might do that today!), they have a daughter, and generally meet all of the hip Left Bankers. Those two crazy kids (emphasis on crazy) probably would have muddled along all right, had it not been for one man whom, as a writer, I have very little use for, and as a human being, none at all: Ernest Hemingway.
Scott becomes utterly enthralled to Hemingway and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. Neither, apparently, could Zelda, but that friendship led to dissolution of all kinds.
You know, I understood it better back when William Wordsworth lifted whole passages from his sister Dorothy's journal and claimed them as his own work--I didn't like it, but I understood it for the time. But F. Scott Fitzgerald did the same to his wife in the 1920s and 1930s, which means I know exactly what that initial "F' stands for, and it ain't Francis, if you know what I mean.
It's Fuckhead. Or Fuckwad. (I wanted to make sure you knew exactly what I mean).
Not only that, but Scott claimed authorship of at least one published short story and one essay that were solely Zelda's work. The novel claims more than those two instances, but my independent research [read: Wikipedia] corroborates at least these, and later when Zelda was locked up in the
I wasn't cursing Scott for being an asshole the same way I did when cursing Hemingway whilst reading The Paris Wife, but in a different way. While this novel paints Zelda (and quite rightly as it's her book) as a brilliant, misguided, but sympathetic woman, reading between the lines made me feel sympathy for Scott, too. They were children who never grew up, both eager to prove themselves beyond the conventions of their time, both with a touch of mental instability, both lending their trust to people undeserving of it. Both bright and burning with talent but living in a time where the wife's successes had to take a backseat to the husband's. Both living lives cut short, their collaboration bookended by the two wars.
I wasn't aware of loving this book while I was reading it, but I've thought of little else since I put it down a couple of days ago. I even talked on and on about the book and the Fitzgeralds to my husband last night at dinner, and I'm still very curious to know more about both Zelda and Scott. If that's one of the points of fiction, to linger in the mind of the reader, prompting action of some sort, then Therese Anne Fowler's novel is a successful one.
NB: This book will be published in April 2013 by St. Martin's. I read an advance reading copy provided to me by my sales rep upon my request.