Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Therese Anne Fowler, 2013
St. Martin's Press
I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer...and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed.
When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.
Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it. (From the publisher.)
Read an Excerpt.
• Raised—Milan, Illinois, USA
• Education—B.A., M.F.A., North Carolina State University
• Currently—lives in Wake Forest, North Carolina
Therese Anne Fowler (pronounced ta-reece) is the third child and only daughter of a couple who raised their children in Milan, Illinois. An avowed tomboy, Therese thwarted her grandmother’s determined attempts to dress her in frills—and, to further her point, insisted on playing baseball despite her town having a perfectly good girls’ softball league. Thanks to the implementation of Title IX legislation and her father’s willingness to fight on her behalf, Therese became one of the first girls in the U.S. to play Little League baseball.
Her passion for baseball was exceeded only by her love of books. A reader since age four, she often abused her library privileges by keeping favorite books out just a little too long. When domestic troubles led to unpleasant upheaval during her adolescence, the Rock Island Public Library became her refuge. With no grounding in Literature per se, she made no distinction between the classics and modern fiction. Little Women was as valued as The Dead Zone. A story’s ability to transport her, affect her, was the only relevant matter.
Therese married at eighteen, becoming soon afterward a military spouse (officially referred to at the time as a “dependent spouse”). With customary spirit, she followed her then-husband to Texas, then to Clark Air Base in the Philippines—where, because of politics, very few military spouses could find employment. Again, books came to her rescue as the base library became her home-away-from-home and writers such as Jean Auel, Sidney Sheldon, and Margaret Atwood brought respite from boredom and heat.
Her own foray into writing came years later, after a divorce, single parenthood, enrollment in college, and remarriage. A chance opportunity during the final semester of her undergrad program led to her writing her first short story, and she was hooked. Having won an essay contest in third grade and seen her writing praised by teachers ever since, she knew she could put words on paper reasonably well. This story, however, was her first real attempt at fiction. Her professor told her she had a knack for it, thus giving her the permission to try she hadn’t known she was waiting for.
After an intensive five-year stint that included one iffy-but-completed novel followed by graduate school, some short-fiction awards, an MFA in creative writing, teaching undergraduates creative writing, and a second completed novel that led to literary representation, Therese was on the path to a writing career. It would take three more novels (all of which are published) and a great lot of new reading, though, before she began to grasp Literature properly–experience proving to be the best teacher.
The inspiration to tell Zelda’s story came unbidden, on a day when Therese was contemplating entirely different story ideas. Believing Zelda to be little more than “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s crazy, disruptive wife,” she was skeptical of the idea. But when a quick web search revealed that Therese’s mother and Zelda had both passed away in the overnight hours of the same date, March 10th (though in different years), Therese was compelled to explore the idea further–and then, seeing how wrong she’d been about Zelda, write a story that would, she hoped, bring a maligned, talented, troubled woman the justice she deserves. When Z sold first to a publisher in London on the 10th of April–the date The Great Gatsby was published in 1925–Therese had to think it was fate.
Therese has two grown sons and two nearly grown stepsons. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband. (From the author's website.)
Visit Therese Anne Fowler on Facebook.
With lyrical prose, Fowler's Z beautifully portrays the frenzied lives of, and complicated relationship between, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald...This is a novel that will open readers' minds to the life of an often misunderstood woman—one not easily forgotten.
RT Book Reviews
Jazz Age legends F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald come into focus in Fowler’s rich debut.... 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.
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.
If you’re looking for dishy tales of crazy Zelda and drunken Scott, this isn’t your book. You get some of that, certainly, but Fowler, through meticulous research, has crafted a Zelda you might not expect: She’s complex, confused, ambitious, impulsive—and naive.
(Starred review.) Fowler’s Zelda is all we would expect and more…once she meets the handsome Scott, her life takes off on an arc of indulgence and decadence that still causes us to shake our heads in wonder…soirées 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. 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.
1. Many accounts of both Scott and Zelda contend that Zelda wouldn’t marry Scott unless he was well off—a view they themselves encouraged in the early years of their marriage. How does this play into the flapper image Zelda embodied in the ‘20s? Overall, was it harmful or beneficial to her?
2. How much of Scott’s success is owed to Zelda’s manufactured breakup with him in 1919?
3. The first time Zelda thinks she may be pregnant she refuses to pursue an abortion. Why, then, does she choose differently later on?
4. Why does Zelda have so little regard for her parents’ views and the standards by which she was raised?
5. Is Scott’s alcohol abuse a cause or a result of the life he and Zelda led and the troubles they experienced?
6. How legitimate was it for Scott and his agent, Harold Ober, to sell Zelda’s short stories under a joint by-line?
7. Which of Zelda’s talents do you feel was her truest calling?
8. How do you feel about Scott’s insistence on hiring strict nannies to care for Scottie? What benefit, or harm, may have come from this?
9. Modern psychiatrists have said that Zelda was probably troubled not with schizophrenia in its current definition but with bipolar disorder, which is characterized by dramatic mood swings and the behaviors that sometimes result. Where do you see evidence of Zelda’s illness in the years before her breakdown in early 1930? How much, if any, of her vibrant personality might be tied to the disorder?
10. What does it say about Scott that he was so highly involved in Zelda’s care during her episodes of hospitalization?
11. Why does Zelda tolerate Scott’s infatuation with actress Lois Moran and, later, columnist Sheilah Graham?
12. When Zelda says Ernest Hemingway is to blame for the disaster she and Scott made of their lives, what exactly does she mean? What might have been different for them if Hemingway hadn’t been Scott’s close friend?
13. Ernest Hemingway’s sexuality has been the subject of scrutiny by literary scholars and curious readers alike. In what ways was Zelda’s fear about the nature of Scott’s friendship with Hemingway justified?
14. Owing greatly to Ernest Hemingway’s account of her in A Moveable Feast (1964), Zelda has been seen as “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s crazy wife.” Why do you think Hemingway wrote so spitefully about her and so critically about Scott so many years after both their deaths?
15. Scott made almost all his money writing for the popular magazines (“the slicks”) and from the movie industry—and making money was essential for the lifestyle he wanted to lead. Why, then, was he forever struggling to impress the critics with more serious work?
16. Alcohol abuse and infidelity were seen as common and acceptable during the Jazz Age and among the expatriates especially. How much have views changed since then?
17. How do Sara and Gerald Murphy influence Zelda? What about Zelda’s friend Sara Haardt Mencken?
18. Despite her evolving interests and ambitions, Zelda never saw herself as a feminist. How might that view have affected her choices, both as a young woman and then later, when she aspired to dance professionally?
19. In what ways would the Fitzgeralds’ public and private lives have been different if they’d lived in the 1960s? 1980s? Today?
20. The Great Gatsby is often said to have been modeled on the Fitzgeralds’ time in Great Neck (Long Island), New York, with Gatsby’s love for Daisy inspired by Zelda’s affair with Edouard Jozan. Where in Z do you see evidence of this?
21. Scott turns Zelda’s affair with Jozan into another Fitzgerald tale. What does this say about him? What does it say about Zelda that she allows it?
22. Though Zelda spends most of her adult life away from her family and the South, she doesn’t escape their influences. Where do you see this most vividly?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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