Friday, May 31, 2013

Z is for Zelda

I haven't seen the new Gatsby yet, but not for lack of desire.  It has just been such a busy summer so far. I will admit that I worry that I will be comparing it to the Robert Redford-Mia Farrow version I fell in love with back in high school. I'll add that I am aware that it does bear the ear-markings of the seventies when I see it now.  I've already heard that there's an undercurrent of rap in the new movie, which will probably trouble me. When it gets right down to it, though, I'm more likely to say what I always say:  the book is better. 

Meanwhile, I have been getting my Fitzgerald fix while on the road this past week reading Therese Anne Fowler's new novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.  Several years ago, at our state English conference, we had an actor who performed a one-woman show about Zelda.  We might have expected lots of jazz and the Charleston, but she portrayed the dark side too, intimating that Scott mined Zelda's writing--her letters, her journals, even her stories--and took them as his own.

That detail of her fiery death at a mental institution here in North Carolina put a bit of a damper on her life story too.  

Fowler's novel is told from Zelda's point of view, relating her life from the time she met Scott when he was stationed in her home, Montgomery, Alabama, when she was a headstrong seventeen-year-old girl from a prominent family.  The story she tells shows the impact of the alcohol-fueled lifestyle of the literary and artistic bright stars of their time, which Fitzgerald (or Stein) called "The Jazz Age."  

While Scott is portrayed as a talented but flawed man who was as concerned about his literary reputation as most prominent politicians  are concerned about their legacy today.  He comes across as jealous, petty, and manipulative.  Zelda is a talented woman discouraged or prevented from exploring her own talents, eventually destroying her physical and mental health.  

Having read Paris Wife, the story of Hemingway's first wife, I was especially intrigued by the story of Hadley and Hemingway at this juncture in their failing--and then failed--marriage. The name-dropping of the circles in which they moved, first in New York, then in Paris and other parts of Europe, is particularly amazing because it is true--Cole Porter, Mencken, Picasso, just about everyone who was making a mark in the cultural world between the two world wars.

In her afterword (where she mentions having written part of the book during writing residencies at the Weymouth Center for the Arts in Southern Pines), Fowler admits that her research was sometimes split between "Team Scott" and "Team Zelda."  I'm glad that Zelda got her say this time.


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