It's hard to review "Zelda" without tying in my feelings about Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and their crazy, codependent relationship. But I can't find any fault in Nancy Milford's work, and for such a long biography to hold my interest all the way through is sort of amazing, so I'm giving it five stars.
I first learned about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald a few years ago when I tried to read a couple of Scott Fitzgerald's books. I couldn't STAND the main characters in any of the books, and reading that they were semi-based on the Fitzgeralds in real life made me think these must be some of the most horrid people ever. I read asides about how rocky their relationship was but didn't know too much, but was a little interested in how the characters in the fictional worlds Scott created contrasted with the real people a lot of people compared them to. It wasn't really enough of an interest to do any footwork until I read Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" and read about his encounters with the Fitzgeralds. They sounded interesting and it spurred me to read "Zelda," which had been sitting on my bookshelf for about a year.
So I guess I should get to the actual review, sorry. Milford writes about Zelda's childhood briefly, but most of the book focuses on her life after she meets Scott, which has a lot to do with the fact that the latter part of her life is better documented, I'm sure. Milford is a skillful biographer and has a knack as far as keeping the reader interested in the story she's telling. This is not quite a biography of Scott, but it is hard not to tell his story while telling Zelda's, so you learn quite a bit about Scott along the way.
Zelda's story is so sad, at least I thought it was. She is not a sympathetic character all of the time -- sometimes she is downright unlikeable -- but I couldn't help but feel sorry for her as her husband stole pieces wholesale from her life to use in his writing, including writing from her journals and letters, and blamed her for almost everything bad that happened to him, professionally and sometimes personally. It seemed at times that he even blamed her for her own mental illness. Reading about Zelda's ups-and-downs and visits to mental health facilities was as sad as reading about her plaintive letters to Scott after their relationship fizzled for the last time, and her problems connecting with her daughter, Scottie.
"Zelda" is just a SAD book, so I can see why it wouldn't be for everybody. It does give great insight into the life of the couple behind the books I read, though (and surprise! I think I would dislike them as much in real life, in their heyday, as I did the characters in the books), and it gives a little window into how mental illness was handled seventy years ago or so. It's a fascinating look into a complicated life, if you can get past the melancholy inevitable end.
(BONUS! I have now learned I am crap at reviewing biographies. Yay?)