My love of the 1920s and my love of The Great Gatsby led me to wanting to read books about Fitzgerals and mor notably, his wife Zelda. Much is written about both and they were very influential members of the Lost Generation. I’m really glad that this means a lot of fiction about Zelda and her life to get me in the mood for more 1920s awesomeness. I wanted to read this book for a long time and found a copy at the library’s used book sale, but I ended up going with the audiobook of this title.
Call me Zelda by Erika Robuck
Summary from Goodreads:
From New York to Paris, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald reigned as king and queen of the Jazz Age, but those who really knew them saw their inner turmoil.
Committed to a Baltimore psychiatric hospital in 1932, Zelda vacillates between lucidity and madness as she fights to forge an identity independent of her famous husband. She discovers a sympathetic ear in her nurse Anna Howard, who finds herself drawn into the Fitzgerald’s tumultuous lives and wonders which of them is the true genius. But in taking greater emotional risks to save Zelda, Anna may end up paying a far higher price than she ever intended.
I thought this book would focus more on the time leading up to Zelda being committed so that was a slight let-down. I really liked how Anna told the story. It would have been so different to have Zelda talk about her life with Scott but having Anna see it objectivly and figure out how they had become what they were was really interesting. I liked having Anna’s backstory and adventures in the story as well, it gave it a lot of depth. Most of the time, I was cheering for Anna even when Zelda was a pain. Some things I found a bit unbelievable but I could see the Fitzgerald’s relationship growing the way Anna saw it and understood it from the past. It seemed a very sad but very real marriage.
One of the things that bothered me about this book was Anna’s obsession with the Fitzgeralds. She doesn’t seem to understand it herself so as a reader it was harder to understand. Why was she so taken with this one patient? It seemed to be her celebrity and Anna reacts irrationally to this which is made frustrating by all of her other actions being so rational. If she was going to quit her job and stand up for a woman who was clearly not stable because she was a celebrity, why would she be so put together when it came to all other decisions? This inconsistency was essential for the plot but dragged it down for me.
Despite this, Anna was my favorite character. It was hard to get attached to Scott and Zelda at this point in their lives. I’m sure if it had been 10-15 years earlier, they would have won me over but past their heyday, they’re not as likable. Anna had things going for her and though she was a somewhat bland character, she was easy to root for. I just had to hope she made logical decisions.
Part of what made this novel a little difficult for me is that there was no character I could relate to. Zelda and Scott are nothing like me and Anna was very haunted by her past, something I’ve never felt. The only other strong character was Peter and while I’m also a Catholic, I’m no priest. Maybe he was the easiest for me to relate to in retrospect, but I don’t think he had enough of a role in the plot to be a character I felt was flushed out enought to be relatable.
I enjoyed hearing about Anna’s life, especially her romantic relationship with Will and Sorin. Sorin was a great side character and I wanted even more out of him. He seemed very shy to have saved her from a violent attack. And I thought Anna was weak-willed not to confront him about his misunderstanding earlier which, in my opinion, ruined all chances of them being together. Maybe Robuck always wanted her to be with Will and that was cute and sweet, I can appreciate it.
I was really upset when Anna quit her job to work for the Fitzgeralds. She was not being a medical professional by the way she acted, covering for Zelda and becoming to close to her. It was very out of character from how she described her time in the war. If she’d been that much of a professional, she wouldn’t have formed the bond and then we wouldn’t have this story. If there’d been some kind of emotional trauma that could have started her close feelings to Zelda, it would have been mor believable.
The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Amy Landon. I thought Landon did OK but her voice was somewhat flat through the book. She has a very ‘whimsical and airy’ voice which was right for large parts of the novel as Anna seems to observe the things around her without feeling them. But at times when there was a fire to put out or emotional trauma, this vocal quality made me feel disconnected from the real trauma Anna was feeling.
It seems odd to say, but friendship was a big theme of this book. Anna shouldn’t have befriended her charge like she did and it was highly innappropriate and then Anna left them to go back to her own life which seems a poor thing for a friend to do. But the ending was something only a friend would do. What Anna did for Zelda was a great service to her and it as sweet to see. I’m not sure it was believable, but it was sweet.
Writer’s Takeaway: Character motivation was lacking for me in this book. Anna went from disciplined and professional to covering for mental patients and quitting her job. There needed to be more motivation for this drastic change because I didn’t blieve it and was put-off by her inconsistency from the beginning.
A fun read but frustrating at times and somewhat flat. Three out of Five Stars.
Until next time, write on.