Best books...chosen by Therese Anne Fowler

In her latest novel, the author assumes the voice of Zelda Fitzgerald to tell the story of her celebrated marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In her new novel, Z, Therese Anne Fowler assumes the voice of Zelda Fitzgerald to recount the story of the young Southern belle who, by wedding F. Scott Fitzgerald, launched one of the most famous literary marriages of the 20th century.

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (out of print). A modernist, semi-autobiographical novel about a tormented ballet dancer and her tormented artist husband. Published by Scribner’s but heavily edited—first by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in order to “control the message”—it has moments of brilliance and begs for further care and development.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (Ballantine, $15). To be a woman of passion and ambition in the early 20th century was to invite scandal, scorn, and personal anguish. Horan’s 2007 novel gives us the real characters Martha Borthwick and her lover, Frank Lloyd Wright, as Borthwick struggles to balance her conflicting desires to be writer, mother, lover, and individual.

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (Riverhead, $28). This recent novel imagines the belle-epoque lives of two sisters, including the girl who inspired Degas’s sculpture Little Dancer Aged 14. Here is the unglamorous side of Paris and art and aspiration and desire, and the lives of young women whose opportunities to even survive, let alone thrive, are few.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (Dover, $3.50). Wharton’s novel of desire and emotional tragedy prefigured the kinds of fraught stories F. Scott Fitzgerald would go on to tell in his novels. When society not only dictates but controls our behaviors, what is really to be gained from following the rules?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, $15). A Shakespearean novel most people know of but often don’t actually know. Not a celebration of excess, nor a demonstration, entirely, of excess’s “road to ruin,” Gatsby is a dark tale of how obsessive and unalterable hope can ruin even the most well-intentioned.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Penguin, $16). This debut novel from 2011 unfolds within the milieu of the Fitzgeralds’ later lives—1930s New York—and shows how society came to reflect the vision put forth in Gatsby. In Towles’s bright, daring narrator, Katey Kontent, we get a version of Zelda that Zelda herself was never quite able to embody.

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