By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.
In 1939, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald stirred up one last fiasco--a disastrous and booze-fueled trip to Cuba. They had been separated. Zelda lived in Asheville's Highland Hospital, where she was institutionalized after suffering from anxiety and hearing imaginary voices; Scott left from Hollywood, where a screenwriting job for MGM stalled his fiction and depressed him terribly. We know very little about the trip, except that it was the last time they saw each other. Scott died less than two years later, succumbing to his weakened heart and broken spirit. Zelda perished in a North Carolina asylum, when a fire broke out and she, locked in a room awaiting electroshock therapy, could not escape.
Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald differs from recent Zelda-themed novels (Z, Call Me Zelda) by maintaining a tight focus on that Cuba trip, two dimmed stars' last grasp at love and happiness. The author, R. Clifton Spargo, dramatizes the few established historical events (we know, for instance, that Scott was beaten up for trying to stop a cockfight) and fills in the gaps and silences with moments of his own invention. Key to his depiction of the couple's torrid relationship is the literary competitiveness that thrived between them. As he writes in his essay for this series, both Zelda and Scott borrowed heavily from life--and from each other--to make their art, and they both criticized the other's plagiaristic tendencies. But what right do writers have to borrow from real people, and what should stay put in the domain of private life?