I’m not sure what made me pick up this novel about Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. I had heard of it, but I don’t think I had read any reviews of it or heard anything about it from any of my friends. But it popped up on my OverDrive one day when I was between audiobooks and I impulsively downloaded it.
It’s OK. I’ll admit I hadn’t really known anything about Zelda before listening to this audiobook and maybe that’s why I was attracted to it. I’ve never been a fan of The Great Gatsby and I haven’t liked F. Scott Fitzgerald from what little I’ve heard about him, but I wanted to know more about his wife.
This book certainly didn’t help me like Scott. Someone who could be revered as a self-made man who took himself from obscurity to infamy instead comes off as as a spoiled child who resents the fact that he doesn’t come from money, and so he can never truly be accepted by them (at least in his mind). He spends every dollar as soon as he makes it (often before he makes it), obsesses over every single review of his work, cheats on his wife, consistently drinks too much and is a belligerent drunk. Considering how much he drank and how early he died, it’s entirely possible that he managed to drink himself to death.
I’m not sure how much I hated Scott himself vs. the portrayal of him. Some of his lines sounded kind of stunted and unnatural and I’m not sure if that’s an indication that Fowler isn’t as good at writing male characters, or if it’s the fault of the narrator. On the other hand, the way he treated his wife was deplorable (at least as it’s portrayed in the book). He knew he was a great writer and expected Zelda to work around his needs. I understand much of that was probably a product of his generation, but it doesn’t make me like him any more.
It’s worth noting that I started a new diet right before reading this book that required me to give up alcohol, among other things. You might think it would be difficult to listen to their stories of drunken nights while resisting alcohol myself, but it actually made it easier when it became clear it was a means of self destruction for Scott (and Zelda eventually gave it up because of some health issues and found that she felt better without it).
Also, apparently Zelda didn’t like Hemingway, which instantly assured me she was my kind of girl. In Z she points out that anyone who uses the word “true” that much is usually the opposite and I couldn’t agree more.
The book goes on to suggest that there may have been some sort of romance between Scott and Hemingway, which I had had no idea was a working theory, but I can see it. Anyone working that hard to be macho is usually trying to compensate for something.
While Scott was off being a douchebag, Zelda worked as a ballet dancer and did some writing of her own, successfully publishing short stories (albeit, under Scott’s name) before getting locked away in an asylum. Even after that setback she managed to produce some artwork and publish a novel. None of it did very well in her lifetime, but much of it has been critically acclaimed since her death.
Can I just say how glad I am not to have been declared mentally insane as a woman at that time? Not that it’s ever a picnic, but it was especially brutal back then. In the book, the fictional doctor makes it sound like Zelda’s mental condition deteriorated because she wasn’t devoting herself to her family, despite her insistence that she felt better when she was dancing or writing. In her author’s note, Fowler said Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but based on what we currently know about mental disorders, it’s more likely she was bipolar.
I can’t remember the name of the narrator, but I loved the voice she gave to Zelda. I’m not qualified to determine whether her Southern accent was accurate, but it sounded good to me and I liked the slightly breathy quality she gave to Zelda’s voice.
All this is to say that it’s a good book, but not a great book. If you’re looking for a book from a woman’s perspective that sheds some light on this volatile marriage in the infamous Jazz Age, I’d recommend this one. And if you’re into audiobooks, this one is definitely worth a listen.
What did you guys read/listen to this week? Anything else that taught you something new about famous people?