Title: Call Me Zelda
Author: Erika Robuck
No. of Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: New American Library
Bottom Line: Poignant and insightful look at the end of an era
“From New York to Paris, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald reigned as king and queen of the Jazz Age, but those who really knew them saw their inner turmoil. Committed to a Baltimore psychiatric hospital in 1932, Zelda vacillates between lucidity and madness as she fights to forge an identity independent of her famous husband. She discovers a sympathetic ear in her nurse Anna Howard, who finds herself drawn into the Fitzgeralds’ tumultuous lives and wonders which of them is the true genius. But in taking greater emotional risks to save Zelda, Anna may end up paying a far higher price than she ever intended.”
Thoughts: Zelda Fitzgerald, probably the most famous Flapper to exist, had the type of real-life relationship that makes Scarlett O’Hara’s relationship with Rhett Butler look staid in comparison. Her marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald was notoriously volatile, as each struggled with their own personal demons and mental illnesses. Erika Robuck’s Call Me Zelda provides an intimate look into the life of this remarkable woman, while introducing readers to an equally impressive woman in Anna Howard, a nurse who becomes Zelda’s personal caregiver and who is dealing with her own heartache. Together, both women explore the meaning of independence, love, and loss, and form a friendship that will last for decades.
Scott and Zelda’s relationship is a true tragic love story. There is no doubt that they loved each other unequivocally and passionately. However, both sides are guilty of the destruction that mars the beauty of their relationship. Scott’s alcohol and Zelda’s mental illness are the two catalysts that set fire to their fragile relationship. What started out as a mutually beneficial working relationship – in addition to passionate marriage – becomes the biggest obstacle between them, as neither side can adapt to the need for a new set of boundaries or their new roles. Scott refuses to accept Zelda’s need for artistic output and identity, not willing to give up the muse that so inspired him and helped him become famous, while Zelda digresses to childlike behavior used to deliberately provoke her husband and set him to further drink. It is a vicious, ugly cycle that does not end until his death. It is into this maelstrom that Anna strides, fervently hoping to set things to right in order to help her patient. It proves to be a job beyond her talents.
Anna’s own story is equally tragic, but the tragedies that bring both women together ultimately set them apart as well. While Zelda’s mental illness is a huge mitigating factor in the decline of her marriage, ultimately both Scott and Zelda create much of their own chaos. In contrast, Anna’s story is not one of her own making. As she struggles to help her patient and heal from her own wounds, a reader can only admire her dedication, steadfastness, and determination. This serves her well as she enters the tumultuous lives of the Fitzgeralds’. It also proves to be helpful in allowing her to set aside her past heartache and move forward when the time is right. She is the type of character that easily evokes sympathy and makes a reader want to be a better person. As such, one is firmly supportive behind Anna through all of her doubts, awkwardness, and later her happiness.
Ms. Robuck does an excellent job of bringing back to life the extraordinary Fitzgeralds and of creating a highly realistic and sympathetic character in Anna. Better yet, for every fact she presents, more questions will automatically arise. Were the Fitzgeralds’ a victim of the era in which they lived? Would they have had nearly as many problems had they lived in the Baby Boomer era or even before the Jazz Age? That being said, would Scott have been half as success if he had written in a different decade as well? Was Zelda really sick or a victim of her own circumstances? Questions like these only indicate how successful Ms. Robuck is at fleshing out these large-than-life historical figures and making readers care about them. Call Me Zelda is a fascinating glimpse at the decline of the Jazz Age, as those who epitomized the era struggle to find new roles in an age that no longer considers them relevant.