July 3, 2013

Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck {Historical Fiction}

Everything in the ward seemed different now, and I no longer felt its calming presence. The Fitzgeralds stirred something in me that had been dormant for a long time, and I was not prepared to face it....

From New York to Paris, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald reigned as king and queen of the Jazz Age, seeming to float on champagne bubbles above the mundane cares of the world. But to those who truly knew them, the endless parties were only a distraction from their inner turmoil, and from a love that united them with a scorching intensity.

When Zelda is committed to a Baltimore psychiatric clinic in 1932, vacillating between lucidity and madness in her struggle to forge an identity separate from her husband, the famous writer, she finds a sympathetic friend in her nurse, Anna Howard. Held captive by her own tragic past, Anna is increasingly drawn into the Fitzgeralds’ tumultuous relationship. As she becomes privy to Zelda’s most intimate confessions, written in a secret memoir meant only for her, Anna begins to wonder which Fitzgerald is the true genius. But in taking ever greater emotional risks to save Zelda, Anna may end up paying a far higher price than she intended....

An hour later, I returned to Mrs. Fitzgerald to reassess her vitals and begin a relationship with her. It was Dr. Meyer’s philosophy that people with mental illness needed a comforting place of physical and emotional calm to work out their disturbances. He was revolutionary in the practice at a time when sanitariums often involved starched areas of decay and neglect, overcrowded dormitories polluted with the noise of people with not only mental illness, but all forms of physical handicaps, sexually transmitted diseases, or simple homelessness.

But this was not a public institution. It was an expensive private clinic connected to a research hospital, for those with the means to afford it. The wall hangings and tapestries were warmly colored and calming. There were moldings, chandeliers, and various rooms of amusement for billiards or bridge. It had the look of a posh hotel, and I’d felt an enormous sense of relief since I’d begun working here, years ago. The schedule and routine framed my existence in small, manageable blocks the way Walter Reed Army Hospital had done at the start of the war, and the clean, muted environment soothed me.

Until today.

With Mr. Fitzgerald gone, at least the air seemed lighter. Mrs. Fitzgerald was standing at the window when I knocked and opened the door. Her bags were open and she looked as if she’d brushed her hair and washed her face. She continued to hold the papers.

“White February, with the crispness of a paper envelope,” she said in her graceful, Southern drawl, nodding to the snow sprinkled garden outside her window. “Sugar plum fairies were playing in the bushes there, but your knock scared them off.”

She gave me the smile one would give a child. I returned it, relieved to see her lightness and feel my own.

“It’s the white uniform,” I said. “Intimidating.”

Mrs. Fitzgerald’s smile touched her eyes, and she regarded me warmly, seemingly happy that I played along. This was a very good sign and one I’d not expected.

“He’s gone,” she said. “My husband?”

“Yes, Mrs. Fitzgerald, he left to tend to your daughter.”
“But he can’t really leave if we don’t drop his name, can we?” she said. “Call me Zelda.”

Erika Robuck self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Her novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL (NAL/Penguin), was a Target Emerging Author Pick, a Vero Beach Bestseller, and has sold in two foreign markets to date. Her new novel, CALL ME ZELDA (NAL/Penguin), was released on May 7, and made the Southern Independent Booksellers Bestseller list.

Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel Society, Hemingway Society, and the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society.


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