Call Me Zelda: A Novel. Erika Robuck. NAL Trade. May 2013. 352 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 978045123992X.
Who is helping Zelda and who is using her? That’s the quandary in this poignant, complex story about the famous wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda. The plot is not what’s complex; it’s the unbalanced characters whom one can never predict to act in a certain way at any moment in time.
The story begins with Zelda being admitted to a hospital for psychiatric treatment of her acute depression, although she certainly comes across as one suffering from manic depression or bipolar disease. She moves from excessive crying to rage to an almost catatonic state to normalcy in the matter of ten minutes. What is more amazing is the healing presence of Anna, the nurse assigned to Zelda’s case. Anna seems to have a super-sensitive wisdom about what Zelda needs. Unfortunately, there are some quick stereotypical conclusions that hold true throughout the entire novel; Scotty, Zelda’s husband, is the “bad” guy who cannot write without Zelda’s presence and yet who drives him increasingly to drinking more and more and more. Zelda accuses him of sucking the air out of her life and it certainly seems that way from the point of view of Anna who closely observes and interprets the couple’s interactions.
Anna has her own issues surrounding the loss of her husband and daughter, although that doesn’t really clarify until the end of the story. Her family is against her taking care of Zelda constantly and even more so when Scott hires her as a personal nurse when she eventually leaves the hospital.
Anna’s greatest gift to Zelda is the writing down of her thoughts about past years in story form which indeed does seem to help in her healing process. Yet the expression of those thoughts and feelings, beautiful as they are to the reader, actually seem to be causing a regression in Zelda’s unstable condition. The Fitzgeralds have a daughter who matters little other than to serve as the reason Zelda is hanging on, although she actually spends almost no time at all with her child, fearful of harming her daughter with her own illness.
Call Me Zelda: A Novel is an interesting story, rather overstretched with repetition, but fascinating at the mental and emotional world of this rich, spoiled, self-driven, jealous, paranoid, and sometimes tender couple. Zelda is eliciting much public attention with the upcoming Great Gatsby” shortly coming to the movies, but this is a personality that fascinates and confuses at the same time! Interesting and potent historical fiction!