Book Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

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Delve deep into the fascinating life of this literary better half.

We’ve all probably read the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, or at least listened to our High School English teachers obsess over The Great Gatsby. Todays book, however, focuses on the less famous (and, IMO, more interesting) half of the 1920s’ Golden Literary Couple — Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is a no-holds-barred look inside Zelda’s fascinating life, and all of its many ups and downs. Read on for my full book review:

The Story: 

This account of Zelda’s life starts in 1918, when she meets then-unknown writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though she’s from a well-off family with parents who will never approve of her marrying a penniless northerner, she falls head over heels for him anyway. 

This story catalogues their life and romance together, leaving nothing out. It bares their love, loyalty, affairs, parties, and dreams to the world.

The Book:

Fowler gave her best efforts to stick to the truth of Zelda’s marriage, using information drawn primarily from letters addressed to and from the Fitzgerald’s and their friends. She draws conclusions of her own based off of the evidence she has to make for a flowing, believable story of two unbelievable people. 

However, any reader should be careful in taking this book for fact, since this book is heavily built on theories. So long as you understand that going in, you’ll enjoy it.

What I Loved:

  • Zelda is a full, multidimensional character. Since there are few scenes at the beginning of the book without Scott, I was worried at first that “Z” would paint Zelda as nothing more than Scott’s loving wife. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Zelda comes to life in this book as an adventurous, exciting human being. She doesn’t allow anyone’s expectations to stop her from having fun. She’s a dreamer who stops at nothing to get her hands on a new book she can sink her mind into. She’s a disciplined and passionate dancer. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is the life of any party she steps into, and she fights to stay that way until the end.
  • Scott, likewise, is painted as a human being — but Fowler is generous with the attention she gives to his shortcomings as a husband. Scott starts out as a romantic dream, but as time goes on, this fades to give more attention to the rampant alcoholism, jealousy, and cruelty in his marriage. Contrary to my earlier fears, Scott is not the hero to Zelda’s story. If anything, he’s the villain.
  • This book also tackles mental illness head-on, something most other books merely gloss over. It’s hinted at early on that the Sayre sisters are all ill in some way, and after prolonged exposure to a toxic marriage, Zelda starts to suffer from hallucinations and feelings of hopelessness. The book’s depiction of her fight against those feelings is detailed and frankly refreshing.
  • Zelda’s short stories and book are given the credit they deserve. A good portion of Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald is given to Zelda finding a passion in writing critiques and stories. Writing under her husband’s name under the assumption that her own wouldn’t be taken seriously, her words earned mass appeal and popularity.

Concluding Thoughts:

This book was honestly hard to read at times, given how heavy it could get. Crushed dreams, illness, and suffocating relationships played large roles in Zelda’s life. But even though it was hard, it was worth it: Zelda’s life was so much more than the hard times she faced. 

Reading her story made me realize how strong she was. Despite all that she faced, she still held true to who she was as a person. She remained a fighter until her dying days. That’s a lesson we can all appreciate.

Will you be checking out “Z”?

Do you know much about Zelda Fitzgerald? Are you interested in her life story? Will you be reading this book? If you’ve already read it, what did you think? I’d absolutely love to hear from you in the comments below.

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