Top critical review
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Documentary interest only.
on 15 February 2014
'Under separate cover, as I believe is the professional phraseology, I have mailed you my first novel. Scott [Fitzgerald] being absorbed in his own has not seen it, so I am completely in the dark as to its possible merits. If the thing is too wild for your purposes, might I ask what you suggest?'
Zelda Fitzgerald, in a letter to Maxwell Perkins, March 1932
Written in six weeks while its author was a resident of John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Save Me the Waltz is one of those books that has all the right components, but stalls almost immediately.
Despite the brief time it took to write and Scott's connections to Scribners, the novel led a less than charmed life. Scott wanted alterations. Some were points of copyright (Zelda used the name of 'Amory Blaine' for a character - Scott's hero in This Side of Paradise). Others were points of craft (the middle section sagged, and needed extensive revision). Others seem deeply hypocritical, considering how thoroughly Scott had looted their marriage for material in the past. Once published, the novel tanked: a mere 1,380 copies, earning Zelda $120.73, after deducting the costs for extensive proof corrections.
Rightly, too. Switch off hindsight, and it's hard to imagine writing like this avoiding the slush pile:
'They ordered Veronese pastry on lawns like lace curtains at Versailles and chicken and hazelnuts at Fountainbleu where the woods wore powdered wigs. Discs of umbrella poured over suburban terraces with the smooth round ebullience of a Chopin waltz. They sat in the distance under the lugubrious dripping elms, elms like maps of Europe, elms frayed at the end like bits of chartreuse wool, elms heavy and bunchy as sour grapes. They ordered the weather with a continental appetite, and listened to the centaur complain about the price of hoofs.'
There's barely a page in which something avoids having this amount of lush, undisciplined prose dumped on top of it. The images are charged, but don't connect to their subject; the similes amplify and call attention to themselves, rather than distill and focus attention on what's happening. It's the kind of material authors smile at as they write their first draft, frown at during their second, and cut from their third.
Much as you sympathise with Zelda, this novel is a dud.