Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

April 27, 2013 

Nonfiction

I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon

Toure, Atria, 160 pages

Here are things you may not have known about Prince: In high school, he was a decent basketball player. “Amadeus” was once his favorite movie. And he may not have believed that Ronald Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. These tidbits, and others, emerge in Toure’s new book about the enigmatic pop star. But if the author (and MSNBC host) presents them with a hunter’s pride, he is mostly chasing bigger game, bypassing the minutiae of biography on his way to figuring out why Prince became an icon.

It’s a well-timed expedition, with the musician selling new tracks online and playing shows such as the thriller he put on last month at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. Toure divides the book into three sections, each of which addresses a different aspect of Prince’s work: its sexual content, its religious imagery and its connection to a post-boomer generation shaped by divorce. His premise is that Prince’s megastardom resulted from his ability to synthesize those themes for an audience knee-deep in personal and political contradiction.

Los Angeles Times

Fiction

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Therese Anne Fowler, St. Martin’s, 375 pages

The romanticized life of the Lost Generation’s literati has its trademark portraiture – tipsy couples luxuriating in club chairs and glinting with their pearls and rapier wit. In “Z,” a fictionalized memoir of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler plays up this high life. But “Z’s” contribution is singular in righting the record on Zelda – we’re freed from the tiresome mythos of a mercurial lunatic falling apart at every sequined seam. Instead, we get the rough cut of an utterly tragic, almost childlike partnership between Zelda Sayre and her star-crossed husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Just a country girl, Sayre is tenderly whisked into the Roaring Twenties by one of the first literary celebrities. They move from Montgomery, Ala., to Manhattan, Antibes to Hollywood to Paris, spending all their money and more.

Zelda presents as a charming woman of intelligence and courage. Hers is an interim era for women, one that affords unthinkable social freedom, but stymies her career at every turn. She makes the best of it, raising their daughter, Scottie, and mingling with the complete cast – Hemingway, Cole Porter, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein among them. Yet as Scott’s obsession with cementing his reputation as a writer of note supersedes his ability to remain one, their paradise crumbles, and fast.

Fowler shows the Fitzgeralds, together, conjuring the dictum “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” How uncannily synoptic, what a concise autobiography. Their love affair in “Z” is one we revisit with fascination, awe and regret – heroic for what it gave us, utterly tragic for what it took from them both.

San Francisco Chronicle

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