Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan
Review copy provided by the publisher
Fowler’s novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, begins when Zelda is just a teenager living in a small Alabama town. Against Zelda’s parents’ wishes, upon Scott’s selling of his first novel to a major publisher, Zelda decides to marry him and follow him along on his journey to fame and fortune. Every place Scott and Zelda inhabit – New York City, Hollywood, Paris – is like a new playground for the two of them, and even the birth of their daughter doesn’t stop the partying and fun that the Jazz Age brings to the golden couple. But Zelda isn’t just Scott’s wife – she has her own success to pursue, her own thoughts and feelings that truly matter, and Fowler brings her to life in this novel in an intense and illuminating way.
See, this is historical fiction at its best. Fowler takes a real person, Zelda Fitzgerald, that the world knows little about (at least, I didn’t know anything about her), and brings her to life in a way that made me want to learn even more about her. After finishing this book, I feel like I know Zelda, the real person who actually lived and breathed and spent so much time in social circles with some of the most iconic American authors in history. But she was so much more than that, and in Fowler’s portrayal of her, she comes across as a determined and strong woman, but loving and devoted wife, and these two aspects of her personality consistently clashed throughout her marriage to Scott.
I really liked this novel and I have to say that I think listening to the audio made me enjoy it even more. Jenna Lamia did an incredible job portraying Zelda, to the point where I felt that Zelda was telling her own story. Ultimately I highly enjoyed Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and can absolutely recommend it.
Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck
Published by NAL Trade, an imprint of Penguin
Robuck’s Zelda is a sad, broken woman who has been emotionally scarred from years of being married to the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald. This novel is not told from Zelda’s own perspective, rather it is told by a nurse named Anna Howard, who works at the mental institution where Zelda stays for an extended period of time. Zelda wants desperately to be an independent woman, but she is unable to stay sane for any length of time to do so. In addition, Scott has all but abandoned her, asking the staff at the psychiatric ward to take care of her, and specifically looking for Anna to watch over Zelda and protect her from herself.
Call Me Zelda is a nice choice to read upon finishing Z, because it pretty much begins where Fowler’s novel left off. I have to be honest, though, and disclose that I didn’t like Robuck’s Zelda nearly as much as Fowler’s. The Zelda of Call Me Zelda is not much more than a shell of a person, a woman who isn’t living life at all, but simply existing as she goes from hospital to hospital, sometimes recovering for a few days or even weeks, but always slipping back into intense mania and/or deep depression. As a result, I didn’t feel like I ever got to know her, and it was really difficult for me to root for her to even recover.
Anna, on the other hand, I did care about, but since I was hoping to read about Zelda, this annoyed me a little bit. I wanted to spend more time with Zelda, to get to know her better, to find out how her life turned out in the later years (not so well), but instead I spent so much time with this fictional nurse Anna. I don’t know. Ultimately I was left feeling that Robuck is a talented writer who can really develop her characters (Anna, specifically), but I found myself disappointed in the Zelda (or lack of Zelda) that she presented to the reader. Maybe if I hadn’t read Z first I would have appreciated this more, but the fact remains that I couldn’t help comparing the two novels, with this one finishing in a clear second place.
In conclusion, both books have their merits, but if you are only going to read one book about Zelda Fitzgerald, Z by Therese Anne Fowler is the choice I would most highly recommend.