Save Me The Waltz

I’m reluctant to list Zelda’s last name as Fitzgerald, that albatross seeming to have stifled most of her creative ambitions in later life, if not the name itself then the incessant meddling of hubby F Scott. And then posthumously, no one seems able to read this book without referring to him, as if she has contributed nothing. I’m due for a re-read of Heroines, wherein Zambreno diatribes rightfully about this. The preface to my 1932 edition contains some nauseating “thoughts” by Harry T. Moore, a forgotten and sad man: “She had at least a surface ability to write, as she had at least a surface ability to paint and dance in ballet… Hemingway saw that in this family the wife continually interfered with her husband’s work because she was jealous of it… Fitzgerald went through the manuscript and hanged some of the passages that dealt intimately with his marriage…” Moore goes on for several paragraphs detailing FSF’s life after ZF’s death, then “Of course Fitzgerald (FSF) was a great artist…Obviously [this book] is not at this height of achievement… it is a revealing portrait of a woman.”
The story was a bit difficult to get into, the luscious overwrought adjective-laden sentences choking my interest for awhile. Alabama is the third daughter of a Southern Judge, the early pages going into her shenanigans and eagerness to depart for grander lands. She marries David, who becomes a renowned artist, they live in New York. After her parents visit them up north for the last time, Alabama says “it’s very difficult to be two simple people at once, one who wants to have a law to itself and the other who wants to keep all the nice old things and be loved and safe and protected.” David agrees that people have discovered this already, “I suppose all we can really share with people is a taste for the same kinds of weather.”
They depart for Europe, daughter Bonnie in tow. On the boat, Alabama hums a song and is asked, “Are you artistic?” “No.” “But you were singing.” “Because I am happy to find that I am a very self-sufficient person.” “Oh, but are you? How narcissistic!” Once they get to Europe, they bounce about, ending up in the Riviera. One of the men they meet falls in love with Alabama, flees after giving her a letter she can’t read (in French). Then they were on their way to Paris, you can see hints of what remained from Zelda eviscerating FSF:

They hadn’t much faith in travel nor a great belief in a change of scene as a panacea for spiritual ills; they were simply glad to be going. And Bonnie was glad. Children are always glad of something new, not realizing that there is everything in anything if the thing is complete in itself. Summer and love and beauty are much the same in Cannes or Connecticut. David was older than Alabama; he hadn’t really felt glad since his first success.

Once in Paris: “Nobody knew whose party it was. It had been going on for weeks. When you felt you couldn’t survive another night, you went home and slept and when you got back, a new set of people had consecrated themselves to keeping it alive.” David begins to work in his studio on the Left Bank, “the frescoes were finished: this was a new, more personal David on exhibit. You heard his name in bank lobbies and in the Ritz Bar…” David begins to flirt with an actress (Gabrielle), “‘I imagine you wear something startling and boyish underneath your clothes… BVDs or something.’ Resentment flared in Alabama. He’d stolen the idea from her. She’d worn silk BVD’s herself all last summer.” After he has an affair with her, Alabama resolves to try dance. That’s when things get extremely lyrical and good in the writing.
Alabama begins to take lessons with Madame, the Russian ballet teacher, tearing her muscles and limbs, working hard at the bar, her lessons were agony:

At the end of a month, Alabama could hold herself erect in ballet position her weight controlled over the balls of her feet, holding the curve of her spine drawn tight together like the reins of a race horse and mashing down her shoulders till they felt as if they were pressed flat against her hips. The time moved by in spasmodic jumps like a school clock. David was glad of her absorption at the studio. It made them less inclined to use up their leisure on parties. Alabama’s leisure was a creaky muscle-sore affair and better spent at home. David could work more freely when she was occupied and making fewer demands on his time.
At night she sat in the window too tired to move, consumed by a longing to succeed as a dancer. It seemed to Alabama that, reaching her goal, she would drive the devils that had driven her – that, in proving herself, she would achieve that peace which she imagined went only in surety of one’s self – that she would be able, through the medium of the dance, to command her emotions, to summon love or pity or happiness at will, having provided a channel through which they might flow. She drove herself mercilessly, and the summer dragged on.

David soon changes his mind about liking her consumed with the dance:

David drank with the crowds of people in the Ritz Bar celebrating the emptiness of the city together.
“Why will you never come out with me?” he said.
“Because I can’t work the next day if I do.”
“Are you under the illusion that you’ll ever be any good at that stuff?”
{David convinces her to fly around that day, drinks a lot, and tries to convince her to go out with him once they return to Paris}
“David, I can’t honestly. I get so sick when I drink. I’ll have to have morphine if I do, like last time.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the studio.”
“Yet you can’t stay with me! What’s the use of having a wife? If a woman’s only to sleep with there are plenty available for that –”
“What’s the use of having a husband or anything else? You suddenly find you have them all the same, and there you are.”

Alabama works so hard, she receives an invitation for a solo debut in Naples. She turns it down, David doesn’t think it was much at all. But yet, when “she thought about giving up her work she grew sick and middle-aged. The miles and miles of pas de bourree must have dug a path inevitably to somewhere.” She decides to take the Naples invitation after all. She boards the train. “The carriage smelled like the inside of a small boy’s pocket.” She works and works and gets an infection from the glue in the box of her toe shoes, ends up in the hospital for weeks, blood poison. She survives surgery, but will never dance again, only able to walk with a slight limp. David says, “Try not to mind.”
They head back the US to tend to Alabama’s dying father. Alabama asks him for some last minute philosophy before he goes, “I thought you could tell me if our bodies are given to us as counterirritants to the soul. I thought you’d know why when our bodies ought to bring surcease from our tortured minds, they fail and collapse; and why, when we are tormented in our bodies, does our soul desert us as a refuge.” Her father asks her to ask him something easy. The Judge dies, the mother is packed away into a smaller house, David & Alabama have a final party before they head north. The two of them sit in the living room as the party has died away, in the late afternoon gloom.