Call me Zelda by Erika Robuck is a moving story about Anna, a psychiatric nurse who becomes engrossed in the lives and family of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald as she tries to help Zelda with her emerging mental illnesses. It touches on many elements including marriage inequality, family dynamics, friendship and love as well as dementia. Anna’s role in Zelda and the Fitzgerald’s life is ever changing and somehow, she has to learn to heal their wounds while battling her own demons.
Robuck has done an excellent job of educating the reader about the Fitzgeralds and their fame and notoriety from its peak of the 1930’s to the late 1940’s. They are depicted as artistically gifted while completely dysfunctional in their marriage.
Zelda’s character is forced to deal with her husband’s demands while trying to create a more mature role instead of just Scott’s “flapper wife.” Unfortunately, her unstable and overexcited mind can’t marry her independant thinking with her reality of being married to Scott, whom she believes only wants her to have an identity related to him.
At the core of the book is the relationship of Zelda and Anna. They feed off of each other in a very parasitic-host way. Zelda needs affirmations while Anna needs a project to take her mind off of her own problems. Her brother, Peter, warns her throughout the story to not get sucked into the Fitzgerald’s madness but their cause is one she doesn’t want to escape from, and she knows it.
I really felt for Zelda in this book as much as she did to make those around her cringe, the reader is privy to her softer moments as seen through Anna’s eyes. Her lucid moments seem to make Anna’s day but her low points can make you loathe her. I wondered why Anna would take the abuse but Robuck sets up Anna in an compassionate light and it’s understandable why she would wish to sublimate her own life for someone else’s.
My main gripe with this book is that Anna is so obsessed with Zelda that there’s not much mention of anything else. The time period being the 1930’s to the 1940’s and so many other things were going on in the world. Prohibition gets a mention only when related to the Fitzgerald’s. There is reference to WWI and Anna serving as a nurse at the time. The later parts of the book during 1948 and there’s really slight mentions of WWII at all. The story is supposed to be based somewhat on reality so a bit more world history (or any other history than the Fitzgerald’s) would have been refreshing.
Also, Zelda’s psychoses is a huge part of the book but aside from painting and writing, Anna doesn’t really do much to help Zelda’s mental health. Again, she gets sucked into their world and loses sight of what her main role is in the household. She becomes more of a babysitter / confidant than a healer.
Overall, I appreciated this book and the literature lesson hidden in the story. It’s apparent that Robuck has done her homework here and really researched her subjects to the point that the book feels very autobiographical, rather than fiction. Of course, she has had prior knowledge on her subjects. Her last book, Hemingway’s Girl, revolves around Ernest Hemingway, another famous writer of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Hemingway is referenced several times in Zelda, as well.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and rate this book a 3 / 5 stars.
Check here for more information about Erika Robuck and her other works.