Scott Fitzgerald – the author versus F.Scott Fitzgerald – the man. His literary legacy being consolidated by five novels and a great number of short stories while his personal life story revealed by his closest life companion – his wife Zelda. Well, actually imagined as being told by Zelda. Because it‘s Therese Anne Fowler‘s biographical fiction novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.
It is Zelda Fitzgerald the novelist is fascinated about and not her famous husband, though his role in the story is more than crucial. Yet the fictionalized Zelda‘s biography discloses what an extraordinary personality she was.
Written in the first person the story strengthens credibility of the narrative, even if Fowler confesses that all the letters that appear in the book are her own creation. In fact, the author has done a tremendous job and shown an endless passion by researching multiple sources to richly portray a crazy wife of the prominent representative of the Lost Generation. ‘Like so many people, I thought I knew who Zelda was, and, like so many people, I was wrong. When I realized this was true and recognized how she‘d been misunderstood, misrepresented, and maligned, the prospect that I might be able to give her a say in her own defense became a mission,‘ Fowler explained her point of inspiration.
So Fowler invents her own story of this famous Jazz Age couple. She starts with the days when Zelda, just a seventeen year old beauty from the South, meets Scott in Montgomery, Alabama, just right before the end of the World War I. Intrigued by Scott‘s ambition to become a writer, Zelda feels a rising attraction to this guy with ‘an angelic face with eyes as green and expressive as the Irish Sea.‘ When he makes his first success as a writer, Zelda finally agrees to move to New York and marry him.
This is when a glorious life of two complicated personalities starts rolling out in New York, Paris, the French Riviera, closing the circle and going round again. It even reminds of The Great Gatsby, though Z has neither such emotional depth, nor this menacing sense of despair. By making a promise to give Zelda a say, Fowler bakes a totally one-sided story where Scott is a first-class drunkard (which is undeniable) and a total anti-feminist who threatens to deprive Zelda of a right to see her own daughter, if she chooses a place in a ballet company.
With all the stories already written about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, perhaps Z might not stand the criticism of those who are on Scott‘s side. But this is a pure fiction, one might argue. It is and that‘s why the novel is very readable, with a vivid and colourful retrospective of the Jazz Age atmosphere.
By telling a story from Zelda‘s perspective Fowler not only reveals her as a gifted writer and dancer but also attempts to justify her delusions, such as her French romance, or to understate seriousness of her mental disorders. Because it was always F.Scott Fitzgerald to blame. Or (which hit as a surprise!) actually it was Ernest Hemingway who made such a mind blowing influence upon those two.
Anyway, the author is right in one thing when she puts the following words into Zelda‘s lips: ‘We have never been what we seemed.‘ So Z is yet another fake but with the unique touch of a skillful imitator.