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West of Sunset: A Novel Paperback – December 29, 2015
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Praise for West of Sunset
“O’Nan’s adroitness with atmosphere and period detail makes Fitzgerald’s dreams of creating worthy work, even with his best days behind him, absorbing and poignant.” – The New Yorker
“[The] grim yet undeniably fascinating last act of Fitzgerald’s life is the subject of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeous new novel. . .West of Sunset is a pretty fine Hollywood novel, too, but it’s an even finer novel about a great writer’s determination to keep trying to do his best work.”—Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post
“A mesmerizing and haunting novel. . .O’Nan delivers – whole-body – the sensation that you are deep inside a living, breathing, suffering consciousness. . .Another triumph of the novel surfaces in O’Nan’s wily insinuation into Fitzgerald’s creative life, how it breathes through his everyday existence. Movingly and believingly, the manner in which a writer works – thinks, processes, assimilates, envies – is given life. And that is ultimately what makes the book so special.”—The Boston Globe
“[An] almost unbearably bittersweet portrait of the once-great novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sad yet glittering final years in Hollywood. . .the repartee gleams with malicious wit.”—USA Today
“Engrossing. . .O’Nan skillfully pulls us into Fitzgerald’s gilded and yet familiar world. He brings the Hollywood legends to life. By the end, they feel like friends. . .A story well-told about interesting people in interesting times.”—The Chicago Tribune
“There’s a certain romance to the tortured genius mythology, but Stewart O’Nan makes quick work of dispelling it in this beautifully written historical novel which follows Fitzgerald's stint as a screenwriter during the 1930s, captures that era of Hollywood well, offering juicy scenes with Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, and other Fitzgerald friends and hangers-on, while lending witty dialogue to his affair with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, a doomed romance that's worthy of a classic film.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Just as O'Nan succeeded in drawing readers inside the heads of such ordinary people as the elderly widow Emily in Emily, Alone, or Manny DeLeon, the hapless chain-restaurant manager in Last Night at the Lobster, he inhabits Fitzgerald's very being and authentically depicts the writer's fluctuating mind-sets during the final years of his life…an intimate portrayal of a flawed man who never gave up.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“O’Nan, an accomplished, award-winning writer who has clearly done his biographical homework, polishes this saga to a seductive sheen, populates it with persuasive incarnations of Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, and others, and takes us to a very dark place indeed.”—Elle
“West of Sunset is a rich, sometimes heartbreaking journey through the disintegration of an American legend. O’Nan captures the fire and frailty of F. Scott Fitzgerald with an understated grace that would have made Fitzgerald himself stand up and applaud.”—Dennis Lehane
“An achingly nuanced love story and one of the best biographical novels to come along in years. O’Nan’s great achievement here is in so convincingly inhabiting the character of Scott Fitzgerald and of the people surrounding him during his descent into the clarifying depths of 1930s Hollywood.”—T.C. Boyle
“Our contemporary master Stewart O’Nan – the king of the quotidian – has changed his brush stroke and given us a picture of another American master, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in the last years of his life. This is an amazing book, book one great writer about another, just an amazement.”—Elizabeth Strout
“O'Nan is an incredibly versatile and charming writer. This novel, which imagines F. Scott Fitzgerald's troubled time in Hollywood (with cameos by Dorothy Parker, Bogie, and Hemingway), takes up (like much of O'Nan's work) that essential conundrum of grace struggling with paucity. One brilliant American writer meditating on another--what's not to love?”—George Saunders
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Stewart O’Nan is the author of fourteen previous novels. He was born and lives with his family in Pittsburgh.
Top customer reviews
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What a great premise- a story about a famous writer who had success during a decadent and glamorous era, fell from grace and suffered from much tragedy when Zelda (supposedly the great love of his life) went through her mental illness and the great depression impacted everyone.
The prose itself is well crafted, but the story itself.... Well, I expected so much more.
The main character portrayed here doesn't appear to struggle or suffer- not really- not for losing Zelda, not for having to compromise in Hollywood, not for being broke, not for not-finishing another novel. So many of F.Scott Fitgerald's novels have a perfectly tragic element and I thought it might be mirrored here in a fictional story about him, but I didn't get that here. We read about his drinking and health, but (for me) I never like the character enough to really care. And the depictions of hanging out / writing for pictures in Hollywood aren't interesting enough to enough to offset this.
For me- It's okay, but definitely not what I was hoping for.
"West of Sunset" is one.
Stewart O’Nan’s effortless, three-dimensional prose wrapped around the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s waning, troubled years in Hollywood? It seems like a perfect combination.
One O'Nan's epigrams is Fitzgerald’s own assertion, “There are no second acts in American lives.”
While there’s controversy over that line and precisely what Fitzgerald intended, "West of Sunset" certainly seems to underscore the point in spades (or cocktails).
If you want to know whether this book might be for you, I can suggest no better investment of time than to go the Authors on Tour podcast, which captures live presentations from The Tattered Cover in Denver. O’Nan reads three substantial chunks of the book at the beginning of the talk and you’ll know immediately if you are going to agree with his take on Fitzgerald’s internal space and world view.
O’Nan follows the details of Fitzgerald’s last few years—the films he was hired to write, his trips to visit Zelda, his affair with Sheilah Graham, his drinking, his attempts to not drink, and his increasingly penniless state. If you haven’t studied Fitzgerald, what better way than fiction to pick up the general flow of a writer’s career, in this case the last few years? Works for me. But it’s not Fitzgerald’s wanderings that interest O’Nan, it’s his search for dignity and a place to apply his talents. In Hollywood, he comes across a bit like a stranger in a strange land, never quite feeling comfortable in his own skin, particularly when comparing himself to one Ernest Hemingway.
“Back in his office reading Conrad, Scott was unsure was whether Ernest wanting to see him was good or not, and yet he was flattered that he’d asked after him. He liked to think he had sensitivity to and unselfish reverence for talent—or was it just a weakness for success? All his life he’d been attracted to the great, hoping, through the most diligent exertion of his sensibility, he might earn his place among them. It was harder to believe now, and yet, if he could still count Ernest as a friend and rival, perhaps he wasn’t the failure he accused himself of being. He’d never had any doubts about Ernest’s powers, only his misapplication of them, a judgment he trusted was reciprocal.”
Fitzgerald can’t quite find his footing—the teamwork aspect of writing for Hollywood (Fitzgerald worked on famous films and many obscure ones, too) and the celluloid storytelling style didn’t come naturally, though he applied himself to the task. His body starts to revolt from years of heavy drinking. Is it a recurrence of TB or “the beginning of the inevitable weakening?” World War II is starting to rumble. And, finally, Sheilah has a few surprises that keep him unsettled. He's between women and between careers and uncertain if his talent works in the Hollywood way. He wonders what has happened and perhaps thinks through hard work he can regain his own second act (something that frequently gives him trouble when working on scripts). “He’d had a talent for happiness once, though he was young then, and lucky. But wasn’t he lucky now, again?” He isn't sure.
Fitzgerald’s determination is palpable as O’Nan inhabits Fitzgerald’s being. It’s almost as if Fitzgerald thinks he can regain what he’s lost through the sheer number of hours he invests in fiddling with a line of dialogue.
We all know how this is all going to end, with Fitzgerald’s much-too-early death in 1940. As the pages dwindle, the ache is right there, all the unfinished business and a famous man starting to realize that there are greater forces he can't control.
Famously, Billy Wilder once compared Fitzgerald’s work in Hollywood to “a great sculptor who is hired to do plumbing.” A novelist working in film, said Wilder, Fitzgerald “did not know how to connect the pipes so the water could flow.”
Stewart O’Nan, one great writer fictionalizing another, has no such trouble.