The Jazz Age revisited through the tumultuous and harrowing life of Zelda.
Fowler’s Zelda is all we would expect and more, for she’s daring and unconventional yet profoundly and paradoxically rooted in Southern gentility. (Her father, after all, was a judge in Montgomery, Ala.) Once she meets the handsome Scott, however, her life takes off on an arc of indulgence and decadence that still causes us to shake our heads in wonder. The early years are sublime, for both Scott and Zelda are high-spirited, passionate and deeply committed to each other. There’s even a touching naïveté in the immoderation of their lives, a childlike awe in their encountering the confection of Paris for the first time. With the success of This Side of Paradise, Scott quickly becomes lionized, and life becomes an endless series of parties. Fowler reminds us of the astonishing social circle within which the Fitzgeralds lived and moved and had their being—soirées with Picasso and his mistress, with Cole Porter and his wife, with Gerald and Sara Murphy, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound and Jean Cocteau. Scott’s friendship with Hemingway verges on a love affair—at least it’s close enough to one to make Zelda jealous. We witness Zelda’s increasing desperation to establish her own identity—rather difficult when Scott “claims” some of her stories as his own. She also studies ballet and gets an invitation to join a dance company in Italy, but Scott won’t allow her to leave. He bullies her, and she fights back. Ultimately, both of these tragic, pathetic and grand characters are torn apart by their inability to love or leave each other.
Fowler has given us a lovely, sad and compulsively readable book.