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Maire Martello - Stepping Out With Scott and Zelda

It’s time for another book review by Don Noble. This week, Don reviews “Stepping Out with Scott and Zelda: Touring the Fitzgeralds’ Montgomery” written by Maire Martello.

Montgomery was, as all the world knows, the childhood home of Zelda Sayre who married F. Scott Fitzgerald. That radiant couple, after their marriage, lived in New York, Connecticut, Paris, on the Riviera. Often, they rented hotel rooms, sometimes whole houses, but never owned a home. This book, which was needed, directs the literary tourist to places which were significant in Zelda’s childhood, places she took Scott to during their courtship during the first years of the first World War and the Montgomery sites they would have visited during their stay in 1931. Sadly, many of the places of importance are gone, demolished by the construction of the interstate, remodeled, repurposed, or just closed, like the famous Elite Café. After all, it has been a long time.

The Sayre home, for example, on Pleasant Avenue, was demolished in the 1970s, but Martello tells us that “next door to the empty lot sits a white frame structure ca. 1900, that appears to be a replica of the Sayre house. The surviving house features a front porch that suggests where the teenage Zelda would have received her many suitors and entertained her future husband.” It is not Martello’s fault that the Montgomery Country Club, where they first dated, burned, that Camp Sheridan, where Scott was based, was closed in 1919. Zelda’s schools still stand: the Sayre Street School, Sidney Lanier High School and the Carnegie Library which was important to young Zelda. One can visit these places and others like the Alabama State Capital where Zelda proudly showed Scott the gold star marking where Jefferson Davis stood while being inaugurated.

This little book covers the territory it sets out to, but it could have been more satisfying if the author had been a bit more expansive in discussing the ways these venues get used in stories by Scott and by Zelda in her novel “Save Me the Waltz.” For example, Zelda took Scott to visit the Oakwood Cemetery, and Scott used Zelda’s powerful emotional feelings about the Confederate dead to great effect in “The Ice Palace.” The airfield, Taylor Field, now closed, was the base from which infatuated pilots flew over the Sayre house, doing barrel rolls and other dangerous “stunts” to impress her . One pilot was badly hurt in an unnecessary crash and Zelda it seems, shook it off.

In “The Last of the Belles” Fitzgerald gives this biographical bit real importance in understanding his heroine, Sally Carol, who is selfishly concerned with what people will think. The most important site, which I think deserves a lot more attention, is the Fitzgerald Museum on Felder Avenue. Through the generosity and perseverance of Julian and Leslie McPhillips, the house, where the Fitzgeralds lived in 1931, was saved. The collection, which is only briefly described here, was grown with the addition of personal items, period furniture and, especially, paintings by Zelda, and is now a first-rate literary museum.

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.