Save Me the Waltz (1932) by Zelda Fitzgerald

A Brief Summary and Review

Saturday_Evening_Post_cover_1-21-1922.jpg
By Ellen Bernard Thompson Pyle in the 1922 Saturday Evening Post [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was the troubled wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the most famous American writers of all-time. Save Me the Waltz is her first and only novel, one which is largely autobiographical and which covers approximately the same time period as her husband’s masterpiece, Tender is the Night (1934). Both books fictionalize the couple's life in Paris together, but each from their own perspective. 

While Tender is the Night deals with F. Scott’s attempt at handling his wife’s eccentric nature and ultimate mental breakdown, Save Me the Waltz is much more about Zelda’s hopes and dreams and her sense of being overshadowed in most regards by her husband’s great success. Zelda Fitzgerald was considered to be one of the first American “Flappers” – a glamorous and materialistic woman whose greatest hope was to become a prima ballerina, though she only pursued dance late in life. The story itself is interesting in that it reveals Zelda’s perspective on F. Scott as well as her interpretation of that great American time period known as “The Roaring ‘20s.”

The majority of the characters, aside from Alabama (Zelda), David (F. Scott) and Bonnie (their daughter) are relatively flat and, at times, even incongruous (characters’ names spelled in different fashions, eye colors changing, etc.). What Fitzgerald does well, though, is to create characters in relation to Alabama. The dance instructors and love interests, for example, all come to life quite unexpectedly because of the way they interact with Alabama. The relationship between David and Alabama is drawn extraordinarily well and, in fact, is reminiscent of the lovers’ relationship in Ernest Hemingway’s  (1946, 1986).

Theirs is a tortuously romantic bond, hopeless and beautiful at the same time. It makes sense that this would be the most aptly developed relationship, considering it is at the core of the story (and the primary impetus for Zelda’s writing the story in the first place). Little Bonnie’s character is also quite charming and her relationship with her Dad is lovely, particularly near the end. 

This book has been both praised and derided for its prose and style. The structure is sound and relatively traditional; however, the prose and language are quite odd. At times, it seems to read like a less sexual, female version of William S. Burroughs; the narrative breaks into vivid streams of consciousness, where one has to wonder if passages were written in a fury of rage.

While these moments are sometimes over-the-top, even inexplicable or irrelevant, they are also quite beautiful. There’s a bizarre honesty to the breaks in tempo and the seemingly random items which Fitzgerald chooses to romanticize through language. Some readers are bound to be enamored by this style, but others might find the self-indulgent moments both distracting and exasperating.

When Zelda Fitzgerald originally wrote this book, it was much more accusatory and biographical than the version which was ultimately published. Her husband believed that she had created the book in a fit of self-destruction, hoping to destroy her (and his) reputations. F. Scott Fitzgerald and their editor, Max Perkins, “assisted” Zelda with revisions. Although historical evidence (letters, manuscripts, etc.) seem to prove that their part in the revision process was limited and mostly geared toward making elements and characters who were modeled after real-life events and individuals more obscure, Zelda would later accuse her husband of forcing her to change the book entirely and also allege that he stole her original manuscript to write his own (Tender is the Night). 

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this book, then, is in its history and historical significance. Much can be learned about the Fitzgerald’s relationship and personalities not only by reading the story, but also in researching the history and creation of the book itself, as well as her husband's similarly-themed novel.