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Of all the members of the Lost Generation, the one who claimed the biggest piece of hearts of certain readers of a certain age was Zelda Fitzgerald. After Zelda, Nancy Milford's biography was published in 1970, F. Scott Fitzgerald's denounced wife regained sympathy and, for some, admiration for surviving Fitzgerald's alcoholism and decline while she battled mental illness and the inability to care for her daughter, Scottie.

Therese Anne Fowler, like your diarist, is one of those readers. And she's taken that restoration of Zelda's image to the next step by imagining her life in a new novel, Z.

The prologue, set in the year before she dies, is one of the strongest sections in the novel. She posts a letter from her hometown of Montgomery, where she has gone after hospital stays, to her husband, who is in Hollywood once again chasing the end of the rainbow, and wishes she could mail herself as well.

If I could fit myself into this mail slot, here, I'd follow my letter all the way to Hollywood, all the way to Scott, right up to the door of our next future. We have always had a next one, after all, and there's no good reason we shouldn't start this one now. If only people could travel as easily as words. Wouldn't that be something? If only we could be so easily revised.
Zelda, or at least her life, underwent revisions after she met Scott near the end of WWI in Montgomery. He was dashing, she was swept off her feet, she did not want a conventional, staid life. In that respect, she got her wish. She and one of her sisters took the train to New York City, where she and Scott married, and they began the live the lives of the unconventional. They partied, they drank, they danced. Scott wrote short stories that paid a fortune that they used to party, drink and dance.

Off and on over the years, Zelda wrote as well. But much of her work was either published under both their names or even Scott's.

And while Fitzgerald practically invented the unconventional flapper, he was as staid and conventional as any patriarch in Fowler's novel. He wanted Zelda to worship him, to emotionally support him, to back him whatever he wanted to do, whether it was write, party all night, go meet friends or not put up with resistance when he mentored Ernest Hemingway or starlets, or slept with other people. When Zelda develops a serious crush that she mistakes for love with another man, and plans to run away, Fitzgerald embarrasses her, brings her back and takes her back.

The relationship with Hemingway is fascinating in both reality -- even considering what we don't know and what Papa may not have reliably reported (such as a certain incident that Hemingway relates took place in a restroom and involved Fitzgerald's anatomy) -- and in fiction.

Hemingway's charisma is related in full force in this novel. Zelda's distrust of him is brought in quietly and carefully. She doesn't come across as a shrew or unreliable or mentally unstable. Fowler creates an incident in which the origins of Hemingway's turning against first Zelda, then Scott, could be explained. It's an all-to-human incident in which a man who either thinks a lot of himself or who overcompensates because he doubts himself so greatly (both of which I've thought about Hemingway at times) could initiate. And take revenge for when he doesn't get his way.

Later, it is intimated that Zelda may have evidence that Scott and Hemingway slept together.

All of this sent me down rabbitholes of Google and unresolved determination as to what may or may not have happened.

And then it hit me: Is that not part of what literary fiction might do? Consider possibilities that fit with human nature? Is this a reasonable way to puzzle through what certain real people or any person might do? Is a novel a reasonable way to think through how a person with certain characteristics might respond to certain situations?

These questions are a breakthrough for me as a reader, because I've long held an animus against real people being featured in fiction. For this alone, I'm grateful to Fowler for her ideas as she's expressed them in Z.

The novel is far from perfect. The middle section drags after the Fitzgeralds marry, and there isn't enough of Zelda, even from a first-person point of view, to get a good read on her mental and health problems. There's gauze separating the reader from the person telling this story. But there are plenty of things to think about -- the Jazz Age celebrity who wanted a good little wife, the artist who tried to get lost in her writing or painting because she was not the good little wife kind, the damaged interloper who wanted one or both of them and then tried to ruin their reputations. But the reader has to construct too much or fill in too many blanks. This isn't a case of show v. tell (the great writing that lets a reader fill in the blanks). It's more a case of not following through on potential themes.

But even so, I am glad to have read the novel because of my own breakthrough regarding real people in fiction. And I'm itching to return to the work of those Lost Generation titans.

For another recent conversation on Hemingway, including the Fitzgeralds, please see Brecht's Books Go Boom! Hemingway on Writing.




DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
MON 11:30 AM Political Book Club Susan from 29
Mon 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery Susan from 29, michelewln
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
Thu (third each month - on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
Fri 6:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 07:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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