Just released in May, Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck examines the turbulent, fascinating and ultimately tragic life of Zelda Fitzgerald through the eyes of a fictional psychiatric nurse.
Better known as the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald’s presence was as wild and controversial as her husband’s. She was a Southern beauty, one of the original flappers of the 1920s, an accomplished writer, dancer and painter, and sadly, a victim of mental illness.
Call Me Zelda begins in February 1932 at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, part of Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, with Zelda’s admission for an emotional breakdown and her introduction to Anna Howard, the nurse assigned to care for her.
As the two women begin to bond, they each reveal heartbreaks and struggles in their personal lives. Zelda shares her feelings of anger and violation toward Scott for stealing her diaries, sharing them with friends, and using them in his fiction. She feels his actions are controlling and soul-stealing, and she answers back by publishing the semi-autobiographical novel, Save Me The Waltz, telling her side of the troubled and failing Fitzgerald marriage.
Eventually Zelda is released from Phipps, and Anna agrees to be her personal psychiatric nurse when she returns home. Before she realizes it, Anna is sucked into the destructive downward spiral that is the Fitzgerald’s world, and she must decide how much of her own life is she willing to sacrifice in order to try and save her patient and dear friend.
The novel overflows with themes of female friendship, motherly love, devotion, the dangers of using people, and the power of truth. It also gives you a small glimpse into psychiatric care in the 1920s and ‘30s, and effectively relies on music for symbolism.
Call Me Zelda does, however, leave its readers with one slight frustration. There are moments when you want to push Anna out of the way as the main character and get inside Zelda’s head, but you can’t because it is actually Anna’s narrative that drives the book.
Interestingly enough, part of Robuck’s inspiration for Call me Zelda was Ernest Hemingway’s hatred for Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, which she discovered when researching her prior book, Hemingway's Girl. This intense loathing of Zelda by such a dominant literary force drove Robuck to want to embrace and better understand her.
If you enjoy Call Me Zelda and would like to read more about the Fitzgeralds, there are some other great new additions to the library collection including, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, and Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.
You might also enjoy watching Midnight In Paris, a charming Woody Allen movie featuring many past literary figures including Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston as Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
About the Author
Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com