SOMETIMES MADNESS IS WISDOM: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald—A Marriage

Kendall Taylor, Author . Ballantine $28 (464p) ISBN 978-0-345-44715-9

In this absorbing yet ultimately disappointing account of the legendary duo, Kendall, a cultural historian and former university professor, recounts the tragically dysfunctional marriage of two gifted yet mentally unstable individuals. The story is familiar: Scott and Zelda, "Manhattan's most sought-after couple, in demand at chic gatherings, parties and theatre openings" in the mid-1920s, never stopped partying. But by the late '20s, it was clear that Zelda suffered from mental illness and that Scott's drinking had become "desperate." Scott languished in the wake of The Great Gatsby, "borrowed" heavily from his wife's notebooks and believed that he alone (and not Zelda, whose novel, Save Me the Waltz, revealed unattractive truths about their marriage) had the right to tell their story—feeding her illness. After her total mental collapse in 1930, she stayed in a series of sanitaria until her death in a fire in 1948. Kendall draws upon "previously undisclosed information"; her most noteworthy contribution is her chilling documentation of Zelda's mental health and treatment by elite doctors with experimental approaches to schizophrenia in the 1930s and '40s—including electro-convulsive therapy and injections of horse blood. Though it's the first study of the Fitzgeralds that treats Zelda as equal subject matter, it lacks a cogent context and the focus Kendall might have achieved had she studied Zelda alone (as a needed update to Nancy Milford's Zelda, 1970). Zelda, Kendall claims, "wanted... equal footing and an identity apart from her famous husband," but was "thwarted in that goal by a lack of direction." Despite abundant material, this book suffers a similar ailment. 16 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Betsy Nolan. (On-sale Aug. 28)

Forecast:A five-city author tour, radio interviews and ample advertising may initially revive interest in the Fitzgeralds, but don't expect big ongoing sales.

Reviewed on: 07/16/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-345-44716-6
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