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.
In a time when women were defined by their marriage, Zelda struggles to find a voice of her own, apart from that of her husband, the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald.
After falling madly in love with a promising young writer, Zelda has nothing but a growing sensation of hope and expectation for their future, which is soon consumed by wild parties and a lavish lifestyle traveling abroad, celebrating her husband’s successes, and seeking the ever-elusive peaceful and inspiring locations for him to write. The Fitzgeralds travel the world, meeting many famous figures from history including Ernest Hemmingway -who soon becomes Scott’s newest and closest friend- as well as Picasso, Cole Porter, and Winston Churchill, enjoying the glamorous decadence of the 20s. But this lavish lifestyle takes it’s toll on F. Scott, who relies more and more on alcohol to get him through his writing, and Zelda doesn’t like the changes that she sees in him. And as she worries what to expect next from her husband, who seems to be falling apart at the very seams, she begins to lose pieces of her own self, suffering from episodes of anxiety and other challenges.
As she struggles with her husbands alcoholism and her own mental breaks, she tries to reaffirm her own identity as a dancer, artist, and writer, yet seems always to remain under the shadow of her husband. Determined to try harder, she throws herself into ballet, pushing her body beyond its limits and wasting away under the effects of an eating disorder, which ultimately leads to a complete mental and emotional breakdown
Even though a lot of the issues in Zelda’s life were a part of the times around her, they still hold their meaning today as things I think we all still deal with to some degree or another. The struggle of identity, of being one’s own person, of finding love, and keeping that love, and overcoming the naysayer to achieve the dreams and passions in our own hearts. And so I think this is a book that almost anybody could relate to, regardless of how you feel about the characters involved.
It’s a little hard for me to admit, but I’ve never been much of a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I do, however, enjoy reading Hemingway, and found it a bit unsettling to learn about the darker aspects of his character in this book. Actually, I haven’t been so disenchanted since watching the movie Amadeus, but despite it all I absolutely enjoyed reading this book.
Fowler does a wonderful job in bringing the passions, dreams, and struggles of Zelda Fitzgerald’s life together into a beautiful novel that grips the reader until the very last page. And what a wonderful, glamorous, tumultuous, and tragic life it was!
Rating: 4.5 stars