Picks and Pans Review: Zelda Fitzgerald: the Collected Writings

updated 09/30/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/30/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli

One school of thought on Zelda Fitzgerald holds that her gifts as a writer were never appreciated because she was so eclipsed by her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Another school maintains that it was Zelda who had the ideas, and Scott pilfered them.

But as this collection of stories and articles makes clear, Zelda—whatever her gifts—never produced a polished work of fiction. Her writing is witty in places, and some of her observations are astute, but the material is so disorganized and the style so long-winded, many pieces are almost unreadable.

Zelda Fitzgerald's favorite subject was clearly Zelda Fitzgerald, a southern belle who lived in the fantasy of the jazz age. Like Zelda, her female protagonists are creative, coy and a little flighty. They live, for the most part, in a genteel madness—much like that suffered by Zelda, who spent years checking in and out of mental hospitals.

Fitzgerald is occasionally insightful about her characters—"She quietly expected great things to happen to her, and no doubt that's one of the reasons why they did." But even her best-known work, the novella Save Me the Waltz, falls prey to overwriting: "Most people hew the battlements of life from compromise, erecting their impregnable keeps from judicious submissions." The surprise is how well Fitzgerald's humor works in the few nonfiction pieces she wrote. When asked to contribute to a book of famous-women's recipes, Zelda in her directions poked fun at her lifestyle: "See if there is any bacon, and if there is, ask the cook which pan to fry it in." And in "On F. Scott Fitzgerald," she shows both literary appreciation of and a love for her writer husband: "His meter was bitter and ironic and spectacular and inviting: so was life."

If only all of this book succeeded as well. (Scribner's, $24.95)

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