Friday, June 21, 2013

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck

Choosing to read two novels within a short space of time that cover the same topic can be tricky. If the first one isn’t any good, I might be put off and never get around to reading the second, which is hardly fair. Or, if I really love the first one, the second will have a hard time living up to it and will suffer by comparison–not fair to the second novel either.

Nevertheless, with two books out recently that both sounded wonderful, I decided to give it a go. Zelda Fitzgerald is such a rich character, and her life story is so full of drama and passion, she is a perfect focus for a historical novel. Even two historical novels. How could I choose just one?

I reviewed Z. A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler back in April and loved it. Still, I wasn’t afraid to tackle Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck because, from the descriptions I’d seen, Robuck’s approach to the story is quite different.

In Call Me Zelda, the first person protagonist is not Zelda Fitgerald, but rather a psychiatric nurse named Anna who works in the Phipps Clinic in Baltimore, and who is assigned to be Zelda’s nurse when she is admitted for care in the winter of 1932.

In this novel, Zelda and Scott are in the last stages of their marriage. We don’t see the early, falling in love phase, or the frenetic partying, or the dizzying downward spiral. Now, Zelda is sick and Fitzgerald’s alcoholism is crippling. There are tender moments between the two, but they are few and far between. These two hurt each other more than they help, and they are in desperate need of help.

Enter Anna. From the start, Anna is wary of becoming too involved with the Fitzgeralds because she knows there will be an emotional cost. A war widow who has lost her only child to illness, Anna has experienced too much loss in her own past and has very carefully built a wall around herself. And yet, Anna is seduced by Zelda’s neediness and by the friendship she offers.

Really, this is Anna’s story, using the Fitzgeralds toxic marriage and illnesses (schizophrenia and alcoholism) as a framework. It weaves in biographical data about the famous couple, but told from the point of view of an outsider looking in. Meanwhile, we are also learning about Anna’s past, living in her present, and looking forward to better things for her future.

Robuck brings Anna to life, showing all facets of a nurse who cares deeply about her patient--her friend–while recognizing that she brings too much of her own baggage to the relationship as she crosses professional boundaries and questions her own motivations. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful book that doesn’t necessarily seem to be about the Fitzgeralds so much as about the idea of them and how such a couple could affect this fascinating protagonist, Anna.

So, Call Me Zelda is well worth the read.

This is another historical fiction challenge book (hosted by Historical Tapestry) and also a library book for the Library Challenge (hosted by Book Dragon's Lair.)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds interesting. I love the Fitzgeralds,and it would be interesting to see their relationship unfold through the eyes of another character.