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Saturday, February 4

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Author Tue Jul 30 2013

Beautiful Fools Imagines Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald's Final Rendezvous

beautifulfools.jpgLast Wednesday night at Women & Children First, Chicago-area historical writer R. Clifton Spargo read from and discussed his latest novel Beautiful Fools, a fictional imagining of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's final vacation.

While the biography of the Fitzgeralds has been portrayed and probed by countless authors, Spago's book examines a lesser-visited moment in the couple's tumultuous, co-dependent history. Fools follows the couple on their final trip to Cuba, which occurred mere months before Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack. Since Zelda was institutionalized in the periods immediately proceeding and following the trip, the jaunt to Cuba also marks the last time the two saw one another.

While Zelda and Scott typically kept up a tireless and well-documented correspondence and happily courted the public eye, this trip to Cuba remains shrouded in ambiguity. As Spargo discussed at the reading, essentially no records of the couple's trip exists, and no letters between the two reference what occurred during their eight-day stay. This period, then, is ripe for creative exploration.

The most striking thing about Spago's reading was his devotion to the subject and his extensive research. The author managed to track down Cuban newspapers documenting the couple's arrival and departure, and shed more light on their activities while in the country than any other historian has up to this point. Spago also spent years researching the couple's entire romantic and literary history, even learning how to crib Zelda's writing style for the sake of penning authentic-seeming letters.

If the samples Spago read are any indication, his efforts have paid off. His fictionalized letters between Zelda and Scott were mistaken for the real thing by his editor and publisher. The author's devotion to his subject matter is clear; at the reading he spent more time recounting the couple's history and turbulent muse-writer relationship than he did reading from his own book. This choice was highly appreciated, both personally and by the Fitzgerald-nerds in the audience.

However, the excerpts Spago read from his book blended seamlessly into the narrative he shared with the audience: Zelda and Scott argue and pine for one another in voices that jump off the page. Zelda's mental illness and Scott's infidelities are explored in the rueful yet loving manner that you'd expect from a real couple. Spago even goes out of his way to keep his research from interfering with the authenticity of the text: like real memories, the characters' recollection of them is imperfect and foggy, while the author's knowledge of the same is airtight.

Beautiful Fools is available now from all major booksellers. But hey, consider picking up an author-autographed copy at Women & Children First, or supporting another local bookstore with your purchase.

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