Call Me Zelda
Psychiatric nurse Anna Howard is in awe of her newest patient at Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore, Maryland. Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of famed author Scott Fitzgerald, is a fading flapper menaced by schizophrenia. Through the catatonia and fits of instability, Anna manages to forge a connection to her patient, not knowing that it will be Zelda who forces her to re-examine a past marred by tragedy.
Call Me Zelda is moving and brilliantly crafted. Robuck deftly captures the tempestuous and highly-strung marriage of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, interweaving their story with Anna’s own tragic past. Though set in the waning years of the Fitzgeralds’ popularity, the heady days of the 1920s still make an epic appearance through Zelda’s reminiscences. The Depression years are also rendered well, corresponding to the emotional desert that narrator Anna feels in the wake of her husband’s mysterious disappearance and the death of her much-loved daughter.
The only, barely discernible quibble is the disjointed feel of the first and second “acts” of the novel. The first part closes after Zelda sinks further into madness and is committed to a private but inhospitable mental clinic, severing all ties to her favorite nurse. The second picks up some twelve years later; Anna has had a second chance at happiness and is settled and at peace, but she never reconciled the final, traumatic parting from her beloved friend and patient. As Zelda reaches out over the space of time, Anna is forced onto a trouble-filled road trip to achieve her former patient’s last request. The conclusion is bittersweet but will not come as a surprise to those readers familiar with Zelda Fitzgerald’s sad ending.
Lovers of the Jazz Age, literary enthusiasts, and general historic fiction readers will find much to love about Call Me Zelda. Highly recommended.