Read: ‘Georgia’ and ‘Call Me Zelda’


Have you ever read two books at the same time and find they intersect?

I just finished two wonderful historical novels:

Georgia by Dawn Tripp, a novel chronicling the romance of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz and her growth as a major American painter.

Call Me Zelda, by Erika Roebuck, tells the story of Zelda Fitzgerald’s life with F. Scott and their daughter Scottie during her years in Baltimore. The story is told through the eyes of a fictional psychiatric nurse who not only cares for her but becomes her friend.

Read together I was blown away by the contrasts of their strength, fragility, passion and their love of art.

Georgia is a passionate telling of Georgia’s life as an artist and the love of the great American photographer Stieglitz. It’s not always a pretty story and sometimes it’s steamy.  But the character of Georgia is as bold and colorful as her paintings. I may never look at her art the same way again. I always liked her flower pictures. But when I saw one this past weekend, I didn’t see it as I had seen her others. I saw the paint pushed to the edges, big and bold, fearless in color and stroke. And I saw the woman who did the dishes, dealt with all kinds of people including the difficult Stieglitz and then went and painted her heart out.

When I read Call Me Zelda, a painful portrait of a fragile but intriguing woman, I saw all the places she went because I’ve been there: La Paix, now gone, the Owl Bar, even the grave site near Washington. I never knew, though, that she was a writer and painter herself. I must admit the story gets difficult sometimes and I had to put it down. (That’s how I started Georgia). But I fell in love with Zelda and had to go back again and again to finish her story.

What shocked me was finding both characters in the same place, in an art gallery called An American Place—Stieglitz’s gallery. Zelda came to see Georgia’s artwork after an exhibition of her own. Robuck writes about it as a moment when Zelda falls apart and must be hospitalized.  “I [the nurse] led Zelda past the haunting paintings of enlarged flowers, empty skulls and landscapes that adorned the walls.”

Georgia mentions it, too, almost in passing. “Apparently, about a year ago, [Zelda] raved to Cary [Ross, a poet and friend of both] about some things  of mine she saw—but now she’s locked up in her own white room.”

I found myself entering these scenes from two different points of view. It was just another gallery exhibition for O’Keeffe. It was a pivotal moment for Zelda who left New York to spend time in a psychiatric hospital. Although the author doesn’t say it, I wondered how this fragile flower of a woman looked on those powerful paintings created by a woman who rarely let anyone stand in her way.

I’ve never had this happen before — and I’d be curious if anyone else has found themselves looking at event in two different books. Especially by accident.

One thing is for sure. I plan to read the other works by these two authors. Robuck has one called Hemingway’s Girl  that I have to get my hands on. Tripps’ Moon Tide is on my TBR list, too.

Whew! That list is getting awfully long.