Review: CALL ME ZELDA by Erika Robuck

A while back I went to a book talk and signing by Erika Robuck held at my favorite indie: The Concord Bookshop. I loved her talk about how she came to write CALL ME ZELDA, about Zelda Fitzgerald’s time spent in a mental institution while she was treated for schizophrenia and the relationship she forms with her nurse. I bought but saved CALL ME ZELDA until our trip in August so that I could take it with me (sort of like bringing along a special friend!). I enjoyed this beautiful but heart-breaking novel and didn’t want it to end.

In CALL ME ZELDA, psychiatric nurse Anna Howard is still recovering herself from the losses of WWI (her husband is MIA and her young daughter has died of pneumonia). She works at a mental hospital and has Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott) in her charge. She and Zelda form a bond and become friends. Anna’s emotional attachment to the troubled Zelda leads her to leave her job and work privately for the Fitzgerald family, where she is privy to the highs and lows, the sweetness and the abuse, of Scott and Zelda’s relationship. Zelda, who is schizophrenic and also seems depressed, is unpredictable yet vulnerable. She shows great brilliance, yet feels smothered and held back by Scott. Scott, meanwhile, is an alcoholic who brilliance is at times eclipsed by his selfish manipulations. Anna’s own back story exists as another story line in this book: her struggle with coming to peace with her losses and her striving to begin to live life again.

All in all, I loved this book. It read easily and I felt the character of Anna was well-developed and believable. I didn’t know too much about the Fitzgeralds before reading this novel, and I realize it is fiction, but I found their portrayal quite fascinating. This is one of several books on Zelda Fitzgerald published this year and I put in with my “woman behind the man books” – e.g. “The Paris Wife”, “The Aviator’s Wife”, “Loving Frank”, etc. This was a great read and will undoubtedly be one of my top books for 2013 – made all the more special because my copy is signed by Erika!

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