Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to misuse fiction

Book: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Published: 2013 (St. Martin's Press)

My thought process the entire time I was reading this: Oh my god, this women is such a twit. And it’s not even the real lady’s fault.

Her portrayal is so surface-level and so much like declarations that begin with “I’m the kind of person who…” (which are always said in unearned self-righteousness, or drunk) that you could get more information by reading Zelda’s Wikipedia entry.

And for actual insight into her and F. Scott’s relationship, read his work. I’m not a huge fan, seeing as most of it is the grandpappy of the Pretty/Rich People With Problems genre, but I have a crush on the last sentence of The Great Gatsby, and at least he manages to realize which characters are twits and cast a vaguely tragic note to their vapidity so you know that he knows how dumb they are and what a waste that is.  

But this book, even told through first-person, is a voiceover, not a novel. It summarizes everything in the worst case of “telling” instead of “showing” that I’ve read in a really long time, and when it does zoom in to focus on specific scenes or details, it’s for the most mundane parts possible. The few things I knew about Zelda before reading this, like that she started as a pro ballerina at an usually late age (“late” for ballet being after the age of 21; that is a brutal art) and that she went into a sanitarium for what might’ve been a true mental illness but might also have been the early-19th century way of saying she was getting too uppity – I gained like negative insight, emotional or factual, about.

And for all that she makes Zelda expound on becoming her own woman with her own desires and ambitions and efforts as A Serious Artist and tries to make this seem logical after a childhood of stubborn system-bucking in that way period-piece novels have of getting us on the side of the plucky heroine by having her push for what is taken for granted today (oh my stars and garters, you mean women can actually WEAR PANTS and WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME in their VERY OWN JOBS? *monocle explodes*), she manages to make Zelda appear as just the idle type of arts-dabbler that Zelda claims to not be. She has fights with F. Scott about it, and while no way am I going to side with his “women are only there to support their men” part… he’s kind of right about her own efforts. As portrayed here – I want to emphasize this. In no way am I taking any of this as any sort of real commentary on them and their life or Zelda’s, because while I realize that they were probably actually twits in real life, this didn’t connect any of the reasons between that and how they managed to impact the world.
Another couple of annoying things: the forced Southern accent that is solely represented by occasionally and randomly dropping the g from Zelda’s gerunds and the name dropping of famous 19th century modern artists for no supported reason.
Ugh. I had to take my beloved Tarus to the Ford dealership this weekend and wait for like three hours so she could get a valve cleaned and unstuck, and all I had to do in the new-leather-and-plastic-and-metal waiting room was read this, watch cowboys on the waiting room’s TV turned to AMC, or obsessively check my phone for emails from a manuscript contest that I know I won’t hear about for another three weeks. It was not fun.
Back to the library with this one. I’ve got a nonfiction book about these two on my to-checkout list called Beautiful Fools, and I’m hoping that will be a lot more illuminating. The novel rattling around in my head is loosely based on The Great Gatsby, and I want a decent look at this relationship before I apply it to my physicist who’s obsessed with music and the punk ballerina performance artist he’s setting a bed on fire for.   

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