Book Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
By: Therese Anne Fowler
Published By: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: March 26, 2013
Page Count: 384 (hardback)
Source & Format: Library Audiobook 
Read By: Jenna Lamia 
Genre: Historical Fiction

I love both of the Fitzgeralds, so much that I often refer to F. Scott Fitzgerald as my literary boyfriend and contemplated naming a cat Zelda once upon a time. I even wrote a high school research paper (nerd alert!) on how Scott used their lives as material for Tender is the Night, so this book was one I knew I wanted to read as soon as I heard about it. I suppose this confession is my way of saying that I approached this book with both a blindly devoted fangirliness and an extremely critical eye with high expectations - and this novel did not disappoint! Z is a unique and entertaining fly-on-the-wall view of Zelda's life and time with Scott Fitzgerald.

First of all, note that the sentence above used the word "entertaining" not 100% factually accurate, though I'm sure extensive research undoubtedly went into writing this novel. What Fowler has created is an incredibly entertaining, fictionalized-but-based-in-fact, first-person narrative of Zelda's life from the time she meets (and falls in love with) a not-yet-famous Scott Fitzgerald in her native Alabama to her accidental death at the Highland Hospital in North Carolina - and everywhere in between. And there are a lot of everywheres (and everythings and everyones) in between. And they are so incredibly fun.

I've seen this book described on Goodreads as "Zelda Lite" and I think that describes it perfectly. It covers none of Zelda Sayre's life prior to meeting Scott and, in an afterword, very quickly wraps up the last eight years of her life (the time period between when Scott died and when she died). The bilk of the novel deals with her fun-filled, and then struggle-filled, life with Scott as readers follow them all over the US and Europe and back again. And the heart of the novel is Zelda, who Fowler writes with a believable combination of innocence, experience, ambition, and fragility. Zelda comes across the page as the witty, spunky, creative, intelligent woman I always knew she was and someone who was, in almost all ways, Scott's equal. I liked her before I read this book, but I loved her after finishing it.

That isn't to say that this book doesn't have it's issues. If anachronisms bother you, I'll warn you that this book has a few. I generally don't even notice when things appear in TV shows or books that are from another time period, but I did notice a few in this book (notably Zelda using the term "trainwreck"). But the reason I noticed them is because - in all other ways - Fowler does such a wonderful job making the reader feel like you are IN the past with Zelda. Fowler's sense of place is excellent, which, considering the sheer number of places the Fitzgeralds lived and traveled to, is an accomplishment in itself.

And finally, if you like Scott Fitzgerald now (or Earnest Hemingway for that matter), be prepared to not like him about midway through this book. The sad truth is that he was like most men, who by today's standards, are incredibly chauvinistic, but I didn't enjoy seeing my idealized, wonderful, literary boyfriend ;) in that light (even though I strongly suspect that Fowler wrote him with a restrained hand and that Scott was far worse than she portrays him in the novel). Not that Scott is a villain in this book, because he definitely is not, but Zelda's struggles make you root for her and I love that about this book. I'll say it again, before reading this book I liked her, but after reading it I loved her.

Last Word: If you're looking for a nonfiction account of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald's life - this isn't it. But if you're looking for a peek into the lives of one of literature's most famous couples and an understanding of a flawed but admirable woman, pick this book up. You won't regret it for a second!

Summary via Goodreads

Picture a late-May morning in 1918, a time when Montgomery wore her prettiest spring dress and finest floral perfume—same as I would wear that evening…

Thus begins the story of beautiful, reckless, seventeen-year-old Zelda Sayre on the day she meets Lieutenant Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald at a country club dance. Fitzgerald isn’t rich or settled; no one knows his people; and he wants, of all things, to be a writer in New York. No matter how wildly in love they may be, Zelda’s father firmly opposes the match. But when Scott finally sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, Zelda defies her parents to board a train to New York and marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Life is a sudden whirl of glamour and excitement: Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his beautiful, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, trades in her provincial finery for daring dresses, and plunges into the endless party that welcomes the darlings of the literary world to New York, then Paris and the French Riviera.

It is the Jazz Age, when everything seems new and possible—except that dazzling success does not always last. Surrounded by a thrilling array of magnificent hosts and mercurial geniuses—including Sara and Gerald Murphy, Gertrude Stein, and the great and terrible Ernest Hemingway—Zelda and Scott find the future both grander and stranger than they could have ever imagined.

Related Info: It's worth noting that I've added several nonfiction accounts of Zelda's life to my "To Read" list after reading this book. In case that's the same for you, the two I see referenced most frequently are Nancy Milford's Zelda Fitzgerald and Sally Cline's more recently published Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise. Enjoy!


  1. I look forward to reading this!


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