Title: Save Me the Waltz
Author: Zelda Fitzgerald
Page Count: 196
Publication Date: Originally 1932; my copy, The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald, was published in 1991
Zelda Fitzgerald has always felt like an illusive figure in literature to me. I was introduced to her my junior year of high school when my French Club went and saw Midnight in Paris in theaters. Alison Pill’s slightly eccentric rendition of Zelda intrigued me– I felt like there had to be more to the woman behind the madness.
While I got my BA in English, the male Fitzgerald was constantly mentioned, revered, and studied; Zelda was mentioned as his wife but rarely discussed as an author. Fast forward to 2018 when I started listening to my favorite podcast of all time, The History Chicks, and listened to Episode 66: Zelda Fitzgerald. This very podcast inspired me to read Save Me the Waltz and Tender is the Night simultaneously. I was originally going to do a duel review but decided to separate the two because each individual, especially Zelda, should stand alone.
Save Me the Waltz is a short novel of only 196 pages with chapters that are roughly 15 pages a piece, so if you like to break your reads up by chapters, like me, it will go fairly quickly. This book reads more like a poetic retelling of Zelda’s life than a standard novel. She opens up a whimsical, albeit, self-critical window through her main character, Alabama.
Alabama is a Southern debutant that falls for a military man named David who dreams of becoming a painter after WWI ends. If you know anything of the Fitzgeralds’ love story, you know this is how Zelda and F. Scott started their own romance. The book follows Alabama and her husband through their escapades in New York and Europe with a primary focus on Alabama’s infidelity and clear unhappiness in her marriage.
Parts of this novel did not age well, and the blatant racism is difficult to chew or swallow, so you have been warned. However, the novel was progressive to me in two ways. First with Alabama being the one having the affair. I believe in the 1930s this would be quite scandalous– especially seeing as Zelda parallels her characters so closely to her life that most people would assume she was talking about herself. The second truly progressive moment is when Alabama discovers her passion for ballet and leaves David and their daughter, Bonnie, in Paris to pursue an opportunity to dance with a company in Naples. The book screams girl power in a way very few books from the 1930s ever could (Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God might be her main competition).
Zelda ties her feminist critique of society up with a nice little bow by punishing Alabama with an infection in her foot that leads to her never being able to dancing again. It’s a story about the life of a woman that wants to be her own leading lady. She’s lonely, ambitious, and sometimes selfish– but aren’t we all? Zelda’s descriptive details make the novel a dance itself, but there’s nothing extremely punchy about the story. It’s the normal life of an upper-class couple of the 1920s and ’30s, nothing more.
This novel didn’t sell well when it originally came out. Was it too real? Too scandalous? Too pro-woman? Too anti-F. Scott? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I was pleasantly surprised by the artistry behind the work. While it wasn’t a blow-me-away type of novel, it was a nice nod made by a woman who clearly knew the future was female.
You can purchase The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald here if you are interested in reading. My review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, which can be bought here, will be going up next week along with a short blurb about which Fitzgerald won me over as the better writer. Stay tuned, and happy reading!