To write a novel about Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler had to make many decisions between competing sources. Historians and biographers are sharply divided between those who think Zelda ruined Scott’s life and those who think Scott ruined Zelda’s life. Fowler ends up coming in pretty firmly on Zelda’s side. Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast said nasty things about both of them, but many of those things have been found to be exaggerations or outright lies. In any case, I’ve always thought Hemingway was a jerk.
This novel begins when Zelda, fresh out of high school and a popular debutante, meets Fitzgerald, at that time in the army and due to ship out to Europe and World War I. It ends shortly after Fitzgerald’s death. It paints a vivid portrait of Zelda, a woman trying to find a purpose in her life beyond being a wife.
If Fowler has made the right choices, the novel creates a devastating idea of Fitzgerald, insecure, unfaithful, controlling, and alcoholic. He undercuts Zelda in every way possible, publishing her stories under his own name, taking control of her published novel in the editing stage and butchering it, being generally nasty, and threatening to take away her daughter Scottie when she wanted to accept a solo role in the ballet in Naples. His friendship with Hemingway especially drove them apart, as Hemingway was relentless in accusing her of being selfish and ruining Scott’s career, and Scott began to believe it. Note that Hemingway is the same person who did all he could to halt his own wife’s career as a war correspondent.
I was completely absorbed by the novel, which strongly characterizes Zelda and to a lesser extent, Scott. My only criticism, besides a few too many descriptions of clothes, is that most of the other characters are only sketchily drawn. A great many characters appear in these pages, and I can’t say that I had much of an impression about any of them, to the point where I couldn’t remember whether some were friends or relatives. With such vivid personalities as Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, H. L. Mencken, and Hemingway appearing in the novel, more could have been done with them.