Have you ever noticed how ideas sometimes seem to fly around the ether, planting themselves in many different minds at the same time? This is the thought that popped into my own project-packed head when I read in The Wall Street Journal that within a matter of months, four different novels about four different stages in Zelda Fitzgerald’s tragic and colorful life will be making their debuts. Together they tackle Zelda’s complex persona as wife, muse, and writer.
Academics have debated for years just how influential Zelda was in shaping her husband F. Scott as a writer, and whether he diminished or destroyed her own career or damaged her fragile psyche by using her letters, diaries, and comments in his work. Now this small raft of new novels takes the controversy public and lets readers weigh in. It promises to be a fascinating ride!
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler is the first of the quartet to hit the shelves. Therese was inspired to pen her story because she felt most books approached Zelda’s story from Scott’s point of view and offered a narrow view of her as a flighty spendthrift whose mental illness damaged her husband’s life, health, and career.
As Therese puts it: “The Scott camp would like to say that Zelda had very little influence on what he wrote, and people on Team Zelda said he stole all his best stuff from her.” Finding Zelda’s voice wasn’t easy: Therese ended up throwing out 100 pages of a third-person narrative and ultimately let Zelda tell her own story, a risky choice because she had a reputation as a witty, idiosyncratic speaker.
The three other novels on the Zelda hit parade: Beautiful Fools, Call Me Zelda, and Guests on Earth take a more narrow look at her life during moments when her marriage was failing and she was confined for mental illness. What’s most fascinating here is all the different dimensions of one life that are being explored simultaneously. And since the critic H.L. Mencken said Zelda was “cleverer than Scott, if the truth were known” — who knows where it will all end.
Wives seem to be in: Hemingway’s wife Hadley recently inspired a bestseller and books are in the works about the wives of Napoleon, Benedict Arnold, and Robert Louis Stevenson. As writers, we live in a world of infinite possibilities. Ain’t it grand? Write on!