What’s it all about?:
One of the great literary curios of the 20th century, Save Me the Waltz is the first and only novel by the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the years when her husband was working on Tender is the Night—which many critics consider his masterpiece—Zelda Fitzgerald was preparing her own story. The novel strangely parallels events from her husband’s life, throwing a fascinating light on Scott Fitzgerald and his work.
What did I think?:
Oh dear, where do I start with this book?
Zelda Fitzgerald is probably most known for being the wife of the author F. Scott Fitzgerald, indeed while they were married they became celebrities and were seen by most as being embodiments of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. They had a happy and loving marriage at the beginning, but unfortunately it became a partnership rocked by jealousy, resentment and acrimony. Fitzgerald’s increasing problems with alcoholism and Zelda’s own fragility and instability led to her being commited to a sanitorium in 1930 and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Zelda became a feminist icon for many in her own right, coined by her husband as being “the first American Flapper,” and viewed with sympathy as being trapped in a marriage with an over-bearing husband.
Save Me The Waltz is Zelda’s debut and only novel, and seems to be semi-autobiographical, the marriage between David and Alabama mirroring Zelda’s own. The story focuses on Alabama Beggs, a Southern belle who has her choice of a range of suitors but decides to marry David, a talented painter who is on his way to becoming famous for his work. At the start, her marriage seems to be genuinely loving, with parties, servants who act on her every whim and idyllic holidays in Europe. However she soon starts to feel lonely and slightly bitter when David starts mingling with a host of new friends, and embarks on an affair with a French airman. The story seems to go off on a tangent here and becomes quite muddled and peculiar as David exacts his revenge by having a one night stand which he enjoys telling Alabama about. Alabama then decides to fulfil a life-long ambition to become a famous ballerina, (akin to Zelda’s own wishes) and even though she is told that she is too old and has had a child, she is determined to succeed and stubbornly works her body to exhaustion to achieve her dream.
When I first started this novel, I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish it to be honest. Zelda uses such extensive, overblown metaphors and similies which all seem to crash into each other and make little sense! For example:
“Most people hew the battlements of life from compromise, erecting their impregnable keeps from judicious submissions, fabricating their philosophical drawbridges from emotional retractions and scaulding marauders in the boiling oil of sour grapes.”
“Girls in short amorphous capes and long flowing skirts and hats like straw bathtubs waited for taxis in front of the Plaza Grill; girls in long satin coats and colored shoes and hats like straw manhole covers tapped the tune of a cataract on the dance floors of the Lorraine and the St Regis. Under the sombre ironic parrots of the Biltmore a halo of golden bobs disintegrated into black lace and shoulder bouquets between the pale hours of tea and dinner that sealed the princely windows; the clank of lank contemporaneous silhouttes drowned the clatter of teacups at the Ritz.”
Yikes! See what I mean? I found I was often re-reading sentences and deliberately slowing my reading speed just to try and keep up with her and to understand what she was saying. I did get used to the elaborate prose as I struggled through the novel, but it just felt to me like she was trying too hard, and there was no need for the overly flowery language. As for the characters, Alabama seemed pretentious and self-obsessed, and her life only became slightly interesting for me when she was struggling to become a ballerina, and the physical demands that she put her body through, which is where I think the best of the writing in this novel is.
Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is The Night is apparently another portrayal of their marriage from his point of view. He was furious with Zelda after reading Save Me The Waltz as she had used parts of their story that he wanted to in his own novel. This is rather hypocritical considering that he used a lot of material about their relationship in his novels, even going so far as to take snippets from Zelda’s private diary for use in developing his own heroines. I think this book definitely deserves the title of “literary curios,” and may appeal to a lot of people interested in the life of the Fitzgeralds. For me, it made me want to find out more about the real Zelda, who seems such a sad and intriguing character. I would also like to read Tender Is The Night at some point, for the other viewpoint and perspective of such a fascinating couple.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):