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 Fitzgerald’s 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.
In this thoroughly researched, deeply moving novel, Erika Robuck explores the boundaries of female friendship, the complexity of marital devotion, and the sources of both art and madness.
Confession: I’ve never read a Fitzgerald novel – not even The Great Gatsby. I had no idea that Zelda Fitzgerald was a talent in her own right, let alone that she had published a novel of her own. Their early years were so glamourized, and I had happily settled down for a recounting of their early, glamorous years full of maddening creativity and parties. But then – then, I heard a broken Mrs. Fitzgerald say “call me Zelda,” and with one look from her piercing eyes I was drawn quietly into Anna’s story of being nurse and friend to the famous writer’s wife.
I say Anna’s story because it is her story. This is not a book portraying an in-depth look at Zelda’s life. It’s about what comes after the party, the glamour, the ravages of broken bodies and minds, the horrors of world war and the suppression of creativity. Anna is a paradox of a character: she is strong yet susceptible – not in a cutesy heroine way – but in a true way. She has lost her husband and child, yet finds fulfillment and meaning in her work. Her work with Zelda consumes her, at first because she yearns for escape, then because she comes to love Zelda as a dear friend. Anna’s friendship becomes a necessary balm to Zelda’s soul. As Zelda retreats deeper into the dark places of her mind and away from Anna, the big question is, will Anna choose to not merely exist, but live?
Call Me Zelda touches on many themes, but Robuck makes them flow together seamlessly – or rather flow in the often jarring and crazy timing in which life produces them. The characters and setting descriptions are true to the period. Despite the numerous obstacles the characters face, I came away believing that there is beauty found in life’s mangled messes and hope for redemption in the brokenness.
Reviewed by Beth Bulow
Layered Pages Review Team Member