It’s a great day today, because a book I had the great privilege to read early is out: Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset. Here’s the 411:
In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in ruins, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December 1940, he would be dead of a heart attack.
Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeously and gracefully written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, falls in love with brassy gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and daughter, Scottie.
Fitzgerald’s orbit of literary fame and the Golden Age of Hollywood is brought vividly to life through the novel’s romantic cast of characters, from Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to Humphrey Bogart. A sympathetic and deeply personal portrait of a flawed man who never gave up in the end, even as his every wish and hope seemed thwarted, West of Sunset confirms O’Nan as “possibly our best working novelist” (Salon).
What I loved most about the novel is the utterly human portrayal of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Fitzgerald in West of Sunset is not a literary icon. He’s just a guy with a tough job, a sick wife, and a daughter he hopes to keep in school with the few bucks he earns. Which, as strange as it may sound, makes him even more heroic.
Stewart will be starting off his tour tonight at the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble, 7pm. If you’re in the area, come on by!