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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: 'Z'

Z: A novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
By Therese Anne Fowler
Literary fiction
March 2013
St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-1250028655

Of all the members of the Lost Generation, the one who claimed the biggest piece of hearts of certain readers of a certain age was Zelda Fitzgerald. After Zelda, Nancy Milford's biography was published in 1970, F. Scott Fitzgerald's denounced wife regained sympathy and, for some, admiration for surviving Fitzgerald's alcoholism and decline while she battled mental illness and the inability to care for her daughter, Scottie.

Therese Anne Fowler is one of those readers. And she's taken that restoration of Zelda's image to the next step by imagining her life in a new novel, Z.

The prologue, set in the year before she dies, is one of the strongest sections in the novel. She posts a letter from her hometown of Montgomery, where she has gone after hospital stays, to her husband, who is in Hollywood once again chasing the end of the rainbow, and wishes she could mail herself as well. In it, she wishes to mail herself to Scott and to their "next future", as if they could revise their lives as easily as letters and novels are revised.

Zelda, or at least her life, underwent revisions after she met Scott near the end of WWI in Montgomery. He was dashing, she was swept off her feet, she did not want a conventional, staid life. In that respect, she got her wish. She and one of her sisters took the train to New York City, where she and Scott married, and they began the live the lives of the unconventional. They partied, they drank, they danced. Scott wrote short stories that paid a fortune that they used to party, drink and dance.

Off and on over the years, Zelda wrote as well. But much of her work was either published under both their names or even Scott's.

And while Fitzgerald practically invented the unconventional flapper, he was as staid and conventional as any patriarch in Fowler's novel. He wanted Zelda to worship him, to emotionally support him, to back him whatever he wanted to do, whether it was write, party all night, go meet friends or not put up with resistance when he mentored Ernest Hemingway or starlets, or slept with other people. When Zelda develops a serious crush that she mistakes for love with another man, and plans to run away, Fitzgerald embarrasses her, brings her back and takes her back.

The relationship with Hemingway is fascinating in both reality -- even considering what we don't know and what Papa may not have reliably reported (such as a certain incident that Hemingway relates took place in a restroom and involved Fitzgerald's anatomy) -- and in fiction.

Hemingway's charisma is related in full force in this novel. Zelda's distrust of him is brought in quietly and carefully. She doesn't come across as a shrew or unreliable or mentally unstable. Fowler creates an incident in which the origins of Hemingway's turning against first Zelda, then Scott, could be explained. It's an all-to-human incident in which a man who either thinks a lot of himself or who overcompensates because he doubts himself so greatly (both of which I've thought about Hemingway at times) could initiate. And take revenge for when he doesn't get his way.

Later, it is intimated that Zelda may have evidence that Scott and Hemingway slept together. There is nothing definitive in the historical record, and it is easy to imagine their varying times appearing jealous of the other's acclaim as more than that of fellow writers, but imagination is what it appears to be. In the case of the fictional Zelda, it is easy to imagine her jealousy of losing her husband's attention.

All of this sent me down rabbitholes of Google and unresolved determination as to what may or may not have happened.

And then it hit me: Is that not part of what literary fiction might do? Consider possibilities that fit with human nature? Is this a reasonable way to puzzle through what certain real people or any person might do? Is a novel a reasonable way to think through how a person with certain characteristics might respond to certain situations?

These questions are a breakthrough for me as a reader, because I've long held an animus against real people being featured in fiction. For this alone, I'm grateful to Fowler for her ideas as she's expressed them in Z.

©2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: 'The Nightmare Affair'

By Mindee Arnett
YA contemporary fantasy
March 2013
Tor Teen
ISBN: 978-0765333339

Sixteen-year-old Dusty has nearly reconciled herself to needing to attend Arkwell Academy, a private school for creatures closer to her nature than normal people, but as a Nightmare whose talents increase just as murder takes place on campus, she would really rather have been human.

Dusty, as a Nightmare, has to feed off the dreams of others. Crawling on top of them while they sleep to enter their dreams, she gets her energy as the daughter of one of the strongest Nightmares around, her estranged mother. But this time, she's entering the dreams of Eli, a very cute normal guy who she went to school with before her powers kicked in. The dream is located at the cemetery, and there's a body. It's another student.

And, for the first time, the dreamer knows she's there. Dusty is able to make a getaway, but not before Eli wakes up to find her on top of him.

It turns out they're a fated pair, and Dusty and Eli are maneuvered into trying to find out more about the student's murder. The victim was supposed to be part of a protection against a force that threatens the existence of all the creatures at Arkwell Academy.

The set-up is a combination of mystery sleuthing as Dusty, Eli and Dusty's best friend and roomie, a siren, hunt for clues, and a romance as Dusty and Eli get tingly around each other. If only Eli wasn't so infuriating and if only another boy wasn't so nice to Dusty all the time. And there's Dusty's issues with her mother, who got away with everything while Dusty cannot sneeze without getting in trouble.
But then Arnett's over-use of mythology kicks in. It's not enough to have Nightmares (succubi, basically), sirens, demons, vampires and werewolves. We also get Merlin and Excaliber. But not Arthur. And sudden violence that feels out of place.

It's a mindless enough entertainment if fluff is the goal. For older teens and up.

©2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: 'Beneath a Meth Moon'

By Jacqueline Woodson
YA contemporary realistic
February 2012
Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Young Readers Group)
ISBN: 9780399252501
Laurel has been through a lot in her 15 years. She, her father and her younger brother lost her mother and grandmother when they wouldn't leave Pass Christian when Hurricane Katrina came. They've moved to a small Midwest town after living with her aunt for two years in Jackson.

To say she misses her mother and grandmother, M'Lady, is understatement. Their loss is a deep pain that is with her always. It's not enough that she dearly loves her baby brother, who was three months old when they left Pass Christian, and that he deeply loves her. It's not enough that she adores and respects her father, a good, quiet, God-loving man. It's not enough that she has found a good friend, Kaylee, who is the reader to her writer (and Woodson's recounting of their dialogue in this regard is a gorgeous homage to the joys of reading and writing).

It's when the cute boy on the basketball team, the one with a tattoo of gumbo, kisses her and offers her meth, that she thinks she has found something that is enough. Meth dulls the pain of loss, makes her giddy and makes her want more. And more. And more.

Woodson tells Laurel's story by weaving back and forth in time without preaching, but by showing what Laurel is thinking and feeling throughout her descent into drug addiction and living on the street, through attempts at rehab and believing she can handle it. Laurel is fortunate that even on the street, she meets a wonderful person. Moses is a teenager who is paid by grieving parents to paint portraits of their meth angels, the teens they lost to meth, on buildings.

For both Laurel's story and Woodson's strong, lyrical, heart-deep writing, Beneath a Meth Moon is a very good book for teens to discover. The publisher recommends for ages 12 and up; it's going into my middle school library next to Woodson's other books.

©2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission