Save Me the Waltz, according to its author, derives its title from a Victor record catalog, and it suggests the romantic glitter of the life which F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald lived and which Scott’s novels have so indelibly written into American literary and cultural history.
Divided into four chapters, each of which is further divided into three parts, the novel is a chronological narrative of four periods in the lives of Alabama and David Knight, names that are but thin disguises for their real-life counterparts. The four chapters loosely follow four distinct phases of the author’s life up to the death of her father: her childhood filled with romantic dreams of escape from the increasingly stifling family; her exciting escape via marriage to a painter and their early life together in Connecticut, New York, France, and Switzerland; the increasing emptiness of that life; and a final escape into ballet training, concluding with the return to Alabama for her father’s final illness.
These four phases conclude with a party given by the Knights in Alabama, at which once more David is the idol of the evening and once more Alabama and David are envied for their exciting and glamorous lives. The talk at the party, for Alabama, “pelted her consciousness like the sound of hoofs on a pavement,” an effect evocative of the remoteness and boredom in lines from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “In the room women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo.”
The tragic events of Zelda’s reverse fairy tale remained to be played out in real life in the devastating effects that she and her husband had on each other: his alcoholism, her many bouts with insanity, and finally, in 1948, her death in a fire at a mental institution. To the end, neither seemed to understand the other. Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night (1934) and David Knight in Save Me the Waltz are graphic demonstrations of the masculine and feminine defenses, respectively, that each built against the other.