Monday, May 6, 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

I enjoyed every moment of reading Therese Anne Fowler's latest novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I had one course with her back in 2005 during our graduate studies at NC State University. Each week our class members read aloud from the larger project we were working on and gave feedback to our classmates. It was one of the best classes I've ever had because I developed a lot in a short time with my own writing, and fine-tuned my listening and editing skills. I tap into that all the time when I'm helping others through writing coaching services. (Elaine Orr, who has also just published a book, was our professor. I'll be reading her latest, A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa, soon.)

Therese's writing now is fiction and different from the creative nonfiction we were workshopping in that class. I thought what Therese was working on in that class was wonderful, and I'm hoping that one day she'll publish some her creative nonfiction work.

I'm a little obsessed with the Fitzgeralds right now since the latest movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby is about to be released, I've just listened to Tender is the Night in the car, read The Paris Wife (the Fitzgeralds appear in this book about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley by Paula McLain) and I'm thinking through the high school American literature course I'll be teaching in fall. The Great Gatsby is at the top of my list of novels my students will read.

Z is written from the perspective of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Montgomery, Alabama, socialite and wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though Zelda was a talented dancer, artist and writer on her own, her talents were overshadowed by her husband's fame. The book chronicles the Fitzgeralds' courtship and marriage through both budgets and financial excess, home life and travel abroad, deep passion and disdain for each other, and the highest highs and lowest lows of their marriage. Their relationship started out beautifully: they were the perfect couple, well-known and deeply in love with each other. As the years progressed Zelda was pushed aside by Scott so he could focus on his writing career and his affairs with other women, some of which he barely attempted to conceal from Zelda.

Throughout the novel, Zelda struggles to support her husband, the breadwinner of their family, while raising their daughter Scottie and developing herself as an artist. Scott is often resistant to letting Zelda pursue anything that will get in the way of how he thinks Zelda should be spending her time.

This book is one of several that have come out in the past several years that give a voice to the wives of important men through historical fiction. Loving Frank (Nancy Horan) and The Paris Wife were two such books I very much enjoyed. Many of us know that the Fitzgeralds had a difficult marriage at times, and this books gives us a window into that relationship from the wife's perspective, something I'd love to see more of in fiction. I'm liking this trend. 

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