In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I recently finished another historical fiction book about Zelda Fitzgerald, so I was aware of the trajectory of her relationship with Scott (as she called her writer husband). (Note: The book was Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. It covered their relationship from meeting until the end.) What was interesting about Call Me Zelda is that it picks up with Zelda in her latter days, when she was committed to an institution with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
The narrator of Call Me Zelda is her fictional nurse, Anna Howard. Anna is in a unique position to deal with Zelda’s heartbreak, as she has suffered losses of her own. Her husband has gone missing in the war and her young daughter died. She is given the responsibility of taking care of Zelda, who in her later life was institutionalized due to her unstable behavior. Anna forms a caring relationship with Zelda and later leaves the hospital to work with Zelda at her home part of the time. This is a terrible idea because Zelda becomes more and more unhinged when she is with Scott. Scott and Zelda had a terrible relationship marked by adultery, creative competition, and alcoholism.
Anna is living a hollow life, except for her relationship with Zelda. She has a half-hearted flirtation with a man in her apartment building, but she does not overcome the losses in her life until the last part of the book. Essentially, this relationship and her relationship with Zelda are the primary ones Anna has for the first part of the book. What did not work for me was her relationship with Zelda. Even after reading the entire book, I really have no sense of what drew her to Zelda and caused her to go to extreme lengths to keep a relationship with her. Zelda was unpredictable, odd, and often catatonic. Even if Anna was a dedicated nurse, I did not buy her uprooting her life for her. Ultimately, the book was better for me if I just considered that Anna was taking care of any patient—not someone as famous as Zelda.
The secondary characters in this book were well done. Her relationship with her parents was interesting, but I really liked the character of her brother, Peter, a man on the road to becoming a priest. I enjoyed reading about Scottie, the Fitzgerald’s daughter, and the impact that her parents’ marriage had on her life. I also liked the romance that happened later in the book. The apartment building where Anna lived also had several colorful characters, and I enjoyed reading about their interactions with each other.
Ultimately, while I enjoyed Call Me Zelda, my enjoyment was in spite of the undeveloped relationship that Anna had with Zelda, not because of it. So, as a piece of literary fiction, it is worth a read. As a book about the connection between two women, I would skip it.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina