With the recent release of Baz Lurhmann’s contemporary take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, books with any mention of Fitzgerald and co., real or imagined, are flying off the presses.
If the Champagne-soaked story has you thirsting for more, here are four new literary options to saturate your brain.
Call Me Zelda
by Erika Robuck
New American Library, 326 pp., $16
Release date: May 7, 2013
Rumors and stories still surround Zelda Fitzgerald some 65 years after her death. The glamour of the “first American flapper” vs. the passionate but dysfunctional love story with her husband are often overshadowed in modern conversation by the swirling nuances of her fragile psychological state. In Call Me Zelda, Erika Robuck (Hemingway’s Girl) weaves a tale anchored in the historical facts surrounding Zelda, told from the perspective of her fictional psychiatric nurse, Anna.
The story opens in 1932, when Zelda is admitted to Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore, and rides the tumultuous waves until the infamous fire. Nurse Anna Howard’s first-person point-of-view lends an imaginative take on a legendary story as it deeply embeds new sensory details with Anna’s own personal tragedy – the loss of both her husband and little girl. The two women connect and build a relationship first outwardly appearing trimmed in desperation and voyeurism, but ultimately revealed as an example of legitimate friendship. A small inner circle, including a faithful but rowdy Catholic priest, a tempestuous violinist, and of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald himself, zigzag through Anna’s life, awakening the psychological files she closed in self-preservation.
Though the story does steer away from Zelda during a significant portion, focusing instead on Anna's transformation, it works. Anna’s plight to secure her own future happiness while fighting for her new friend’s peace elicits genuine concern and compassion. Wartime devastation in juxtaposition with the daily rigors of fallen stars illuminates the reality of mental illness behind the scenes. It is fiction, yes, but Robuck grasps and sensitively delivers, through Anna’s voice, the often-overlooked details of Zelda’s struggle to shine in her husband's shadow (darkened, in part, of his own volition and acts of betrayal). Interwoven in the novel are fleshed-out stories of Zelda's fires, manuscripts, paintings, and her courageous resistance from destruction by her own demons. However, Robuck's Zelda is also credited for turning the tides and providing therapeutic companionship for her nurse at times.
Robuck is not capitalizing on the Gatsby wave, entirely, but rather explaining by Zelda’s example that fear and trauma affect the human psyche in areas untouched by money or fame, that true love may be toxic, and that forward is not the only trajectory of life. Anna’s immersion in Fitzgerald chaos is as gripping and difficult for the reader as the likeable lead, and Robuck’s portrait of Zelda is loving without failing to mention harrowing details of a fragile psyche. Despite symptomatic eczema, increasing sedation, and the wrenching struggles for her own artistic merit (Robuck assuredly sides with Zelda in the notorious battles with unrepentant Scott and his home-based plagiarism), Zelda’s charm, grace, and largely undiscovered genius remain brilliant throughout her story, historically and in this novel. An emotionally charged and entertaining book, Call Me Zelda is an enjoyable quick read.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
by Therese Anne Fowler
St. Martin’s Press, 375 pp., $25.99
Release date: March 26, 2013
Though categorically fiction, this portrayal of the Fitzgeralds, written from Zelda's perspective, imaginatively fills the gaps between historical accounts of their lives. Pieced together from letters and the couple's individual writings, Therese Anne Fowler presents a lavish depiction, complete with juicy details of the couple the world cannot seem to get enough of. Opining on Hemingway and Hadley, painting a picture of the insiders' view of their celebrity playgrounds, divulging marital secrets, and giving window to Zelda's swirling, buzzing, muddled perspective that eventually becomes most prevalent, Z is a fictional memoir.
College of One: The Story of How F. Scott Fitzgerald Educated the Woman He Loved
by Sheilah Graham
The Neversink Library, 286 pp., $15.95
Release date: May 28, 2013
The lesser known story of F. Scott Fitzgerald's affair with British journalist Sheilah Graham is told by Graham herself in this nonfiction memoir, resurrected from the dust of 1966 by the Neversink Library. For two years the couple lived together, until his fatal heart attack in their apartment. Fitzgerald, whose literary and party-circuit fame had faded and whose wife, Zelda, was institutionalized, shifted his efforts toward educating his lover. He designed a curriculum to teach her the great works of history, philosophy, literature, and more. Photos of many handwritten Fitzgerald pieces are included, as well as an updated afterword by Graham's daughter.
We have not yet received a copy, but Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (release date: May 2, 2013) depicts the famously treacherous love of the Fitzgeralds, with special focus on their vacation to Cuba.
Oh, and of course, you might want to relish in the sources themselves, including FSF’s penned library and Zelda’s Save me the Waltz.