Z: A Novel of Zelda Ftizgerald tells the story of Zelda Sayre, a rebellious southern belle who falls in love with army officer and soon to be famous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. It chronicles their life together, the good, the bad and the downright ugly, in much the same way that Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife does for Hadley, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. In fact, Hadley makes a couple appearances in Z, as the events of their lives intertwine in more than a few ways.
I purchased this book within weeks of finishing The Paris Wife in 2014. I couldn’t wait to compare their stories and look at life in the 1920’s. Then I became distracted by other things and a whole year went by with Z sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. When I finally picked it up I wasn’t excited anymore, but I felt that I should read it before I bought more books. The beginning of Z was rather confusing because I expected it to start with Zelda as a child or young woman and instead it began with a letter she was writing to Scott late in their marriage. In addition, I didn’t find Zelda very likable at the beginning. She came across haughty and spoiled with just a touch of naive rebelliousness. I worried that the book would be boring because I disliked her, and then I felt bad about disliking her, and it spiraled from there. I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for 6 months, at which point I finally gave in and decided to finish it because I hate leaving things undone.
As the story progresses, Zelda matures, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. Being in her mind throughout the story you can feel her growing and – thankfully – becoming for likable. As Zelda and Scott’s marriage deteriorates, Zelda gains unimaginable strength of character and becomes one of my favorite people. She is truly a Renaissance woman. She is a painter, a dancer, and a wonderful writer despite being pushed continually into using Scott’s name on her work. She single-handedly saves their family from ruin at the expense of her own sanity, and then she puts her life back together again. Zelda Fitzgerald becomes a true paragon of a strong woman, and I am thankful every day that Therese Ann Fowler chose to share this version of her with the world.
Living through the ups and downs and twists of a marriage that spans wars and depressions, fame and hospitalization, love and hatred, Zelda is the one holding together not just her own life, but Scott’s as well. Until the very end, she is his biggest supporter as well as his biggest critic, and he is only the better for it.
Probably the part that intrigued me the most was the summer everyone went to the beach because this period of time appeared in both Z and in The Paris Wife, but from the different women’s points of view. Having read The Paris Wife, in which Zelda and Scott were very minor characters and hardly mentioned, it was fascinating to see Ernest and especially Hadley from Zelda’s point of view in Z. To Zelda, Hadley is a very important person, and someone she strives to understand and even somewhat emulate because of her strength during Ernest’s betrayal. The whole section just made me love these two women even more.
By the time I reached the conclusion of the book, I didn’t want it to be over. The beginning had been explained and I understood the point of starting at the end, since in many ways Zelda’s life came full circle. I would highly recommend Z to anyone who liked The Paris Wife, and to anyone and everyone who enjoys period pieces. In fact, I would recommend that every woman (or just every person, really) should read this book and The Paris Wife because they are just so educational and inspiring and strengthening that I think everyone could gain something from their pages.
HHC Rating: 5 Stars