Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and a Digression of Epic Proportions

After waiting weeks and weeks on the library hold list for Therese Anne Fowler's novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, my number finally came up. And overall it was worth the wait. Fowler fictionalizes the wild and crazy life of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his infamous wife, as told in first person by Zelda.

Beginning with her first meeting of Scott as a young southern debutante, Zelda takes us through the tumultuous early years of their unconventional marriage as Scott struggled to establish himself as a writer of merit on the literary scene in New York City. Living far beyond their means led to extraordinary years as expats in Europe and although they couldn't know it at the time, Scott and Zelda would come to define this Lost Generation of artists in the wake of the Great War - an entire generation who never quite knew who or what they really stood for.

Fowler, understandably, sympathizes greatly with Zelda. This becomes especially apparent in Zelda's later - and most fascinating - years when she suffered the most. Some, of course, claim she suffered emotional breakdowns. Given the time period, when women were still legally the property of their husband, I find the breakdown theory questionable, but the fact remains that she did exhibit some, ahem, odd behavior. But heck, don't we all now and again, right?

Either way, Fowler does a fine job and the novel is well worth your time and effort.

I was perhaps most drawn to this novel not because of any special interest in Zelda herself, but because it is simply impossible to separate Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald from that absolute nemesis of the literary world, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, or as I like to refer to him, Misogynist Bastard, despised Zelda Fitzgerald with every fiber of his being. And being close friends (or as much of a friend as a selfish egotist can possibly be) with Scott Fitzgerald, he liked to take every opportunity he could over the years to encourage his "friend" to ditch the flapper who was holding him and his writing back. Um, okay.

No one knows why Misogynist Bastard hated Zelda so much, although there are plenty of theories to go around. But the fact is that Hemingway hated most women that crossed his path. Oh, he liked them enough to bed them, maybe even marry a handful if it suited his needs at the moment (if you haven't read Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, this is a fairly good read that ties in with Fowler's novel as it covers the Misogynist Bastard's first wife, Hadley). But if you've investigated the life of Ernest Hemingway, you know that it is difficult, if not downright impossible, to find any likable personal qualities about the smarmy little shit.

And I'm not afraid to admit that this has most certainly tainted my interpretation of his literary work.  For instance, my good friend James over at The Scholar's Fane (who, by the way, is about a thousand times smarter than me when it comes to this literary stuff) recently explained Hemingway to me:
He's an enigma, to be sure--in many ways an awful example of a man, all things considered, whose work can seem overly simplistic and unexpressive, and yet...as his "iceberg theory" purports, so much is intimated by that forceful brevity, mountains of implication lurking beneath its surface. And in much the same way, underlying the thick layer of chauvinism and braggadocio lay a lust for life, passion for literature, and dedication to the craft that was at many times unparalleled, unrivaled by even the best of Hemingway's contemporaries.
My response? He sucked. Brevity became his signature because the man had NOTHING TO SAY.

We then went on to talk about Misogynist Bastard's Moveable Feast, which James loved:
Moveable Feast was such an excellent read because it was much the same as his fiction, which was often based in fact, but without that affected veneer of fiction. It's a more direct insight into the man, as well as the era. The expat literary scene in Paris at the time--with Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald--was truly remarkable, nigh-legendary, in terms of creative output. Hemingway introduces a degree of humanity otherwise lacking in the typical romanticized view of those lives and times.
My response? Yes, if you call a degree of humanity asshole-ishness.

So the moral of this conversation, I suppose, is that you need to visit The Scholar's Fane for high-minded literary discussions that are capable of separating the author from their work.  Because I seem to be incapable of doing so.

At least when it comes to Misogynist Bastard.

I told you this was going to be a digression of epic proportions. You were warned.

Title:  Z: A Novel of Zelda
Author:  Therese Anne Fowler
Date: 2013
Pages: 384
Publisher: St. Martin's
Source:  Library Copy

Rating:  4 good stars


  1. Ho! You make me laugh every time I visit. Well, you will be happy to hear that I've never read Hemingway! Even though I live in Florida and everything down here is about him (and his opposable thumb cats). You know, the question comes up often...can you love a book when you hate the author? I'm just not sure.

    1. I'm on the fence here. Because we loved Ender's Game, right? I mean, I really, really loved that book.

  2. I read one Zelda book this year and was somewhat disappointed because it wasn't told from her point of view so she seemed like a secondary character to me. I'm looking forward to this book now!

    1. Ah yes, the "other" Zelda novel. Should I read it?

  3. I circled this book last summer at my hometown library, standing at the shelf, reading a bit here and there. Pretty soon it will fall into my hands and I'll read it all.

    Yeah, Hemingway. My guess is that he hated Zelda because she had his number right from the beginning.

  4. Right? One of my biggest examples of Hemingway assholeishness? He later said of Gertrude Stein, the woman without whom he would have been nothing in the literary sense: "She was okay until she had the menopause." Gosh. Really.

  5. I like Hemingway's work, but yea, he was quite the selfish, egomaniacal drunk.

    1. Ah, I envy your ability to separate the moron from his work...that skill shall serve you well. ;)

  6. Love your take on Hemingway, er Misogynist Bastard. I think he was in love with Scott and that's why he didn't like Zelda.

    1. Now there is one interesting theory...Fowler hints at it and I wish she would have given it more credence because really, I think you are on to something here. The old man was jealous of Zelda.


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