We’ve been reading through Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald together with the Book Oblivion community this fall. Reading books in a community, whether it’s with one friend, my book club, a church community group, or my husband, brings such joy to my heart. Instead of breezing through the book and forgetting half of what we read, we attempt to savor the experience and really step inside Manhattan and Paris in the 1920s.
Part of that journey is understanding the author’s own intrigue in the person of Zelda. Therese Anne Fowler is the author of Z and I knew next to nothing about her when I first cracked open our book. What I did find when I went to add Z to my shelf was a warm message on Goodreads from the author herself.
Many thanks for your interest in Z. You might appreciate knowing a little bit more about what went into the creation of the novel, and why I chose to write fiction about people whose lives are so thoroughly documented in biographies.
Z is fiction, but my research was extensive and thorough, and in telling the story I’ve stayed very close to the established facts. My personal approach to biographical fiction is to unearth and then represent the truth, even when it contradicts what people think they know about the characters involved. Much of what we think we know about the Fitzgeralds comes from unreliable sources or has been spun into half-true myth. My mission was to set the record straight.
Popular culture (Midnight in Paris, for one example) has made Zelda into a caricature, reduced her to being only an edgy flapper, or only an unstable, jealous spouse, or only a pathetic, “insane” drain of her husband’s creativity and life. She was edgy–sometimes. She was jealous–sometimes. She was unstable–sometimes. But in the same way that none of us can be or should be defined by one aspect of our lives, Zelda cannot be defined so simply either.
Z is the story of a complex and fascinating woman who was so much more than I knew when I began researching her life. She was exceptional in so many ways, but she was also human.
The back of the book contains a brief essay from Fowler that more or less says the same as what she shares with the Goodreads audience above. But she adds something I find really interesting to her mission to write about Zelda:
“The further I got into the research and writing process, the more I understood how mistaken my original impression of Zelda was. To my surprise, I saw a lot of myself in Zelda–and also in Scott. This gave me reason to imagine myself as an ideal interpreter, which was sufficient reason to pursue the project. A friend of mine who is a genuine believer in ghosts offered this theory: Zelda had chosen me personally.”
What is most interesting about Fowler’s admission here is that most of us likely started out reading the novel in that exact spot. Zelda’s reputation precedes her and we probably bought into the hype about her being Scott’s crazy wife. That’s just it, though, we relate to her as Scott’s arm candy rather than a whole person. It’s not surprising, after all, many of us have read and appreciated Scott’s novels and short stories for a long time. Once we recognize how misguided this approach is for anyone in history, we begin our reading process with humility in the same way Fowler begins her writing process.
As a reader of Z, I feel like I was really able to embrace the author’s mission and step inside the mind of Zelda. I laughed, I cried, and I even despise Hemingway a little (okay, a lot) after reading the way he’s portrayed in this novel. I was right where the author wanted me.
In case you want to continue digesting the worlds that Fowler creates, here are her other novels.
We just decided on our Winter book club selection, and I’m so excited about what we have in store for you. Be sure to check back in December for that announcement.
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