Yet another addition to what is becoming a gracious plenty of novels and biographies focusing on the Scott-Zelda relationship.
Robuck’s strategy is to create a first-person narrator, Anna Howard, who is Zelda’s nurse at Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore when Zelda is hospitalized for schizophrenia in February of 1932. Although Zelda is reluctant to open up to her doctors, she becomes more comfortable confiding in Anna some of the complex inner workings of her relationship with Scott. At first, Anna is an occasionally reluctant repository of Zelda’s outpourings, for she’s suffering from the loss of her husband during the Great War and the death of a beloved daughter from pneumonia, but soon, everyone at the clinic is relying on Anna for advice about the best treatment for Zelda. Anna encourages Zelda to write (she’s working on Save Me the Waltz) and to extend herself by writing memoirs recounting her turbulent and toxic relationship. We meet Scott as well, of course, and find he can be charming and seductive as well as boozy and vindictive. (If he’s not the greatest narcissist in American literature, he certainly comes close.) He inflicts great pain on Zelda by belittling her talents as a writer while at the same time cribbing some of her diary entries wholesale for Tender Is the Night. Eventually, Anna quits the clinic and becomes Zelda’s private nurse when the Fitzgeralds take a house north of Baltimore. Anna and Zelda’s relationship deepens to friendship and occasionally evinces a quasi-erotic quality on the part of Anna even as she develops a love relationship with Will, the best friend of her late husband.
Although Robuck occasionally succumbs to a cloying sentimentality, she usually succeeds in skirting the soap-opera aspects of her subject matter.