Deborah Biancotti's Reviews > Save Me the Waltz

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald
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's review
Jul 24, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: writer-women
Read from July 25 to September 29, 2012

This was, by far, the strangest and most challenging book I've ever read.

Structurally, it's a rambling thing and occasionally it seems to reflect, in & of itself, the protagonist's search for meaning:

"She had a strong sense of her own insignificance; of her life's slipping by while June bugs covered the moist fruit in the fig trees with the motionless activity of clustering flies upon an open sore."

... Yes?

Its prose is often clunky & disordered, & there is a marvellous 'note on the text' at the end where editor Matthew J. Bruccoli provides a measured and insightful commentary on the available texts:

"Baffling sentences have not been solved, and puzzling words have been left wherever they make sense. Much if the unusual quality of SAVE ME THE WALTZ comes from its odd prose; no good purpose would be served by tampering with it."

There's then a long discussion of whether Fitzgerald meant 'house', 'houses' or 'blouse' in the novel's final section: "The editor has restored the authorial reading _house_ -- but he does not understand it."

It really is an odd book, but it is shot through with such frenetic, luminous energy and wit. At times it's hilarious & other times, desperately sad. But you have to understand these are moments, only, and sometimes only phrases - and they sear. As if the author was trying to get everything she could onto the page. Written while she was in psychiatric institutions, it has the sense of madness to it, of wisdom & hurt & physical exhaustion.

For example, hospitalising her protagonist (ostensibly for a foot infection), Fitzgerald comments, "The walls of the room slid quietly past, dropping one over the other like the leaves of a heavy album." And later, "She decided to lie there and frustrate the walls if they thought they could press her between their pages like a bud from a wedding bouquet."

... You see?

Fitzgerald also exquisitely describes the "savage sparse competence of her body" after she takes up dancing, she describes how "The sun sagged yellow over the grass plots and bruised itself on the clotted cotton fields". And, during what seems to be yet another interminable party where people are witty and bored, Fitzgerald writes with an unexpected sharpness, "She had wanted to cry for a long time, she realised suddenly."

If you are going to make an attempt on this book - and I encourage you - you should probably know a few things:

1.) Don't panic, the obscurity of the opening pages does settle down & you will find some tracts of perfectly sensible, reasonable prose later.
2.) Husband Scott was jealous of the book, & disparaging, & insisted on editing it to save his wife & himslef from 'ruin' - it's widely accepted that he changed the portrayal of the character of David Knight to be more positive (a character apparently quite obviously based on Scott himself) & he also edited out any aspects of the story he wanted to keep for his own book, TENDER IS THE NIGHT.
3.) The introduction is desperately condescending towards Zelda & fawning towards Scott, & you should skip it. Seriously. You should skip it & if you own a paper copy of the book, you should tear it out & burn it. It will make you angry. Especially once you acquaint yourself with point #2 in this list, above. You will wonder which pieces Scott stole for his TENDER IS THE NIGHT & whether he realised David Knight is still a self-absorbed prig & how much worse the character was before the editing.

Zelda Fitzgerald burned to death in a psychiatric institution while awaiting shock therapy. She left behind a few short stories & this one bizarre, astonishing book. Five stars for being such an amazing, awkward, unusual, emotional read.


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