Call Me Zelda (Wheeler Large Print Book Series)

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9781410462114: Call Me Zelda (Wheeler Large Print Book Series)
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Fighting to forge an identity independent of her famous husband, Zelda Fitzgerald, committed to a Baltimore psychiatric hospital in 1932, finds a friend in nurse Anne Howard, who, drawn into the Fitzgeralds' tumultuous lives, questions who the true genius is.

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About the Author:

Erika Robuck is a contributor to the popular fiction blog Writer Unboxed, and she maintains her own blog, Muse. She is a member of the Hemingway Society and the Historical Novel Society, and she lives in the Chesapeake Bay area with her husband and three sons.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise for

“You thought you knew everything about the Fitzgeralds, their drama, delight, dazzle, and despair? This gem of a novel spins a different, touching story, drawing you right into their intimacy and fragility through the eyes of Zelda’s caring nurse, Anna. You will love it, as I absolutely did.”

—Tatiana de Rosnay, New York Times bestselling author of
Sarah’s Key and The House I Loved

“A Jamesian sense of the uncanny haunts Erika Robuck’s poignant, compassionate portrait of Zelda Fitzgerald’s desperate dance with mental illness. Call Me Zelda is mesmerizing, page-turning, and provides us with a fresh, very human look at two literary icons.”

—Maryanne O’Hara, author of Cascade

“In this richly imagined story, Erika Robuck has captured the creative brilliance and madness of Zelda Fitzgerald. Told through the eyes of a compassionate psychiatric nurse, Call Me Zelda is an unsettling yet tender portrayal of two women inextricably bound by hope and tragedy.”

Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me

“In this haunting and beautifully atmospheric novel, Erika Robuck pulls back the curtain on the Jazz Age’s most shining couple and offers up a sobering account of the casualties of genius and celebrity. She brilliantly brings Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to life in all their doomed beauty, with compelling and unforgettable results.”

—Alex George, author of A Good American

“Set in the hazy hangover of the Jazz Age, Call Me Zelda intertwines the stories of the quietly grieving psychiatric nurse Anna with the postglitterati relationship of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his vibrant, disturbed wife, Zelda. Robuck writes with an open and sympathetic heart about the dark side of the psyche and how friendship and healing are found in the unlikeliest ways. I was utterly absorbed and eager to return to the story. This is going on my reread shelf.”

—Margaret Dilloway, author of The Care and
Handling of Roses with Thorns

Praise for

“Robuck’s breathtaking alchemy is to put us inside the world of Hemingway and his wife Pauline, and add a bold young woman to the mix with a story uniquely her own. Dazzlingly written and impossibly moving, this novel is a supernova.”

—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling
author of Pictures of You

“Robuck drops the fictional nineteen-year-old Mariella Bennet into the life of Ernest Hemingway in her richly realized newest.... Robuck brings Key West to life, and her Hemingway is fully fleshed out and believable, as are Mariella and others. Readers will delight in the complex relationships and vivid setting.”

Publishers Weekly

“Writing in clear and supple prose, Erika Robuck evokes a setting of the greatest fascination—Hemingway’s household in Key West in the 1930s, where we see her captivating heroine growing in insight and beginning to learn about love. This is assured and richly enjoyable storytelling.”

—Margaret Leroy, author of The Soldier’s Wife

“Hired as a maid in the Hemingway household, Mariella learns to navigate the complicated allure of his interest while maintaining her own fierce heart. She weathers many storms with feisty strength and a memorable clarity, coming to recognize the many faces of true love.”


“Robuck pens a love letter to all of us who ache to have more Hemingway. Set against the enchanting, tempestuous landscape of Key West in the 1930s, Hemingway’s Girl imagines the powerful and resilient women behind the mythical man. An inspiring story of heartache and renewal. Readers will be sure to enjoy this ode to a literary icon.”

—Sarah McCoy, author of The Baker’s Daughter
and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico

“Historical novels rise or fall on how believably they portray their eras and the characters who populate them. Ernest Hemingway comes to life in Hemingway’s Girl, but he meets his match in Mariella, a tough, smart nineteen-year-old making her way in a vividly realized Key West. Erika Robuck’s novel is colorful, atmospheric, and a pleasure to plunge into.”

—Joseph Wallace, author of Diamond Ruby

“Even if you aren’t a Hemingway aficionado, you’ll love this robust, tender story of love, grief, and survival on Key West in the 1930s. And Hemingway fans should agree that because of its strong heroine and writing, Hemingway’s Girl is a novel of which Papa himself would approve. Addictive.”

—Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author
of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers

“I read Hemingway’s Girl in a single sitting—I couldn’t put it down. I fell in love with Robuck’s Hemingway and with the fiery Mariella Bennet, but what I loved most was the novel’s message: that we can inspire each other to be better human beings.”

—Ann Napolitano, author of A Good Hard Look

“Erika Robuck brings to vivid life the captivating and volatile world of a literary legend. Like a Key West hurricane, Hemingway’s Girl gains power and momentum, destroying much in its path, and reminds the reader of the strength found in healing. Fans of Ernest Hemingway will devour this book!”

—Kristina McMorris, author of Letters from Home
and Bridge of Scarlet Leaves

“Fans of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife will adore Erika Robuck’s spellbinding tale of Hemingway and the fiercely independent Cuban girl he befriends in 1930s Key West. Robuck is a gifted storyteller, and in Hemingway’s Girl, she brings the literary legend to life: his passions for boxing and fishing, the tumult of his second marriage, his curious tenderness toward Mariella, whose beauty he is enthralled by and whose grit he admires. Evocative and taut, Hemingway’s Girl is an irresistible, exhilarating story of love and adventure, impossible to put down.”

—Dawn Tripp, bestselling author of Game of Secrets


Hemingway’s Girl

Receive Me Falling


Table of Contents

“Ah! How rapidly descending,
Falls the avalanche of fate!”

—Tobia Gorrio, La Gioconda


February 1932, Phipps Psychiatric Clinic

Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland

The ward was never the same after that February afternoon when Zelda Fitzgerald stumbled into the psychiatric clinic with a stack of papers clutched to her chest, eyes darting this way and that, at once pushing from and pulling toward her husband like a spinning magnet.

I opened my arms to her. She would not look at me, her nurse, or allow me to touch her, but walked next to me down the hallway to her room. We left Mr. Fitzgerald at the desk preparing to meet with the resident in charge of his wife’s case, when Mrs. Fitzgerald suddenly stopped and ran back to him, nearly knocking him over with her force. Her husband wrapped his arms around her and kissed her hair with an intensity that filled me with longing and squeezed my heart. They both began to cry like two lost, scared children. They were not what I expected in any way.

As quickly as she’d run to him, she pulled herself out of his arms and came back to me. It was then that I met his gaze—ice-green eyes underlined by dark circles, his hair and clothing a rumpled mess. I was overtaken by a sense of pity for the two of them and thought that he too might benefit from a stay with us.

“On my left, my left,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald.

“Pardon me?” I asked her.

“You must walk on my left. I can’t see out of the right eye.”

I knew the doctor’s notes said she claimed to have blindness in her right eye, so I obeyed her wishes as we walked down the hall. I noticed a red rash creeping up her neck that she scratched with her jagged nails. By the time we reached the room, she’d succeeded in making her neck bleed.

As soon as we arrived, she collapsed onto the bed, still clutching her papers as if they were a precious infant. She cried in a low moan. An orderly carried in her bags and placed them on the shiny floor next to the door.

“Mrs. Fitzgerald, I’ll need to look you over for admission,” I said. “Is it okay with you if I take your blood pressure and listen to your heart?”

“My heart,” she whispered. “My poor broken heart.”

I walked to her and gently pulled her to a sitting position.

“May I place your papers on the bedside table?” I asked.

She looked at me with fear in her eyes, and then out the door.

“Don’t show him. He can’t see it,” she said.

I wondered who she was afraid would see the papers. Was she referring to her husband? If so, why was she simultaneously distressed at being separated from him, but emphatic that he not see what she clutched in her hands?

“If you’d like to keep the papers with you,” I said, “I can work around them.”

She nodded with some reluctance and put the papers on her lap. I glanced down and saw pages of what must have been her handwriting, surprisingly straight but with the loops and embellishments of a young girl. I was curious about their contents but didn’t want to press her, especially since she began to wheeze.

“I have asthma,” she said while she gasped.

There was a note in the file about asthma, but here, watching her, I thought it more likely that she had panic-induced breathlessness. Her heart rate was elevated and her blood pressure high.

“There, there,” I said. “You are in a state. Let’s try to get you calm.”

The place on her neck that she’d scratched needed attention, so once she seemed more settled, I stepped away to fetch some antiseptic and a bandage. When I returned, she still sat on the bed, clutching her papers, crying out every now and then in anguish. I cleaned her wound, but she soon began to recoil from my touch and questions as if they were flames licking at her face.

I watched her eyes glass over and she entered into the catatonic state sometimes present with schizophrenic patients. She looked through me with her large gray eyes in the most unsettling way, and I had the distinct feeling of having encountered such eyes before, but could not place them. Her limbs were stiff, but I helped her to lie on the bed and moved the papers close to her heart. I covered her with a blanket, drew the curtains, and locked her in the room.

As I left her, dread pushed down through my shoulders and into my chest. It was as if someone closed a fist around my lungs, and sweat beaded along my brow. I stopped and leaned against the door to catch my breath, wondering whether I was suddenly becoming ill, when it hit me: Mrs. Fitzgerald’s eyes were like my own, reflected in the mirror across from my bed years ago, after the war and my great losses.

Memories of my husband and daughter roared up like waves in my ears, along with the crippling sensation that accompanied the remembrance of their absence. I could not think of them here in this place, so I wished them away and they retreated.

Later. Later.

Mrs. Fitzgerald’s eyes, however, would not leave my mind. I had no idea what those haunting eyes would lead me to do. If I’d known then, I don’t think I would have become as involved as I did.

No, I still would have.

Mr. Fitzgerald’s strain was palpable in the room.

We sat near Dr. Meyer’s desk in his warm study—young resident Dr. Mildred Squires, Scott Fitzgerald, and I. We let Mr. Fitzgerald talk while we took notes, each of us judging him in spite of ourselves, and trying to understand his broken wife.

It was clear that Mr. Fitzgerald was near a breaking point himself. His hands shook and he chain-smoked. He often stood to pace the room while he gathered his thoughts. Then he would sit abruptly, cough, and continue. I listened to him with great interest, for he spoke like a storyteller.

“She was born and raised a free and indulged child in Montgomery, Alabama,” he began. “Her mother allowed her at the breast until she was four years old and never told her no. Her father was a stoic and admired judge.”

“Was her relationship with her father difficult?” asked Dr. Meyer, a stern, spectacled German in charge of the Phipps Clinic.

“Yes, I’d say so,” said Mr. Fitzgerald. “Judge Sayre was a practical sort of old Southern gentleman. He didn’t understand his daughter.”

“But Mrs. Sayre did?” asked Dr. Squires.

“I don’t think she understood Zelda, either,” said Scott. “She encouraged her, especially as a wild debutante.”

He stood again, walked to the window, and lit a new cigarette. His nervous energy disturbed all of us. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the usually steady and solid Dr. Meyer squirming in his chair.

“Zelda is strong willed and stubborn. Hates taking instruction,” continued Fitzgerald.

“I know she was previously at Malmaison and Valmont clinics in Switzerland and diagnosed as schizophrenic,” said Dr. Meyer. “What precipitated her first collapse?”

“There was a”—he faltered a moment—“relationship of mine with a young actress when we were in Hollywood in ’twenty-six or ’twenty-seven that affected her. Entirely chaste, mind you, but Zelda wouldn’t hear otherwise. This was following a relationship Zelda had with a Frenchman. Then there was her suicidal practice of ballet. She’d dance six, even eight hours a day until her feet bled and there were pools of sweat on the floor. That’s the pattern, you know. She gets manic about some form of art, becomes closed off from me, aggravates her asthma and eczema, then breaks down.”

I was fascinated by his justification of his affair and her behavior patterns. Was either of them unfaithful? Was Zelda punishing herself through art or trying to find herself? My thoughts again returned to the stack of papers she’d guarded so closely.

“What are the papers she brought?” I asked.

His laugh was bitter. “Her latest obsession: a novel. She thinks she will outdo me.”

His pretension could not hide that he felt threatened by her. Did he wish to be the only one in their marriage with any accomplishment? Did he undermine her attempts at expression? Or perhaps she antagonized him.

“Once she gets an idea in her head she won’t change it for a stack of Lincolns,” he said. “Do you know she thinks I dallied with Ernest Hemingway?”

We all looked up from our notepads.

“I did not, of course, but she’s convinced.”

His weary tone caused me to believe him, though I wondered what made her make such an assumption. I began to pity him again.

He returned to his chair and asked for a glass of water. His skin was pale, and sweat formed along his upper lip. I poured him some water from a pitcher on Meyer’s side table, and Fitzgerald met my eyes directly when he thanked me.

“That is enough for today,” said Dr. Meyer. “It’s clear that you both need rest. Will you be staying in Baltimore long?”

“No, I’ll return to Montgomery tomorrow. My daughter, Scottie, needs me. I don’t want to uproot her again. Not yet, anyway.”

I knew in some vague way that they h...

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9780451239921: Call Me Zelda

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ISBN 10:  045123992X ISBN 13:  9780451239921
Publisher: Berkley, 2013

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