WEST OF SUNSET, by Stewart O’Nan (Viking). This novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years tracks him as he hacks away at Hollywood screenplays, perpetually menaced by poor health, poor finances, and a sense of his rusting legacy. Drowning in memories of a world “all promise and sweet fumbling,” Scott struggles not to disappoint his teen-age daughter, falls for a mysterious gossip columnist, and visits the institutionalized, tragically unstable Zelda. The narration wanders between wistful elegy and snappy one-liners delivered by, among others, Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, and Shirley Temple. 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.
There are plenty of food and cooking memoirs available, as well as novel-recipe book hybrids, like Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. But the following bodies of work by this group of authors ostensibly have nothing to do with food; they sneakily suck you in with their captivating plots while secretly pushing a foodie agenda. And it works.
One of Stewart O’Nan’s classic moves is writing long passages that show his characters performing quotidian tasks in excruciating detail, usually while in the midst of a tragic or upsetting event.
Here’s what the Pittsburgh City Paper said about West of Sunset:
Pittsburgh-based novelist Stewart O’Nan ventures into historical fiction with this portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald, spending his final days in late-1930s Hollywood, hobnobbing with stars, falling in love and trying to write his way out of debt. It’s wonderfully entertaining and insightfully poignant.
In the Chicago Tribune:
Hollywood doesn’t have a benevolent reputation when it comes to nurturing novelists, but F. Scott Fitzgerald, it seems, had little grounds for complaint.
In fact, the down-on-his-luck writer used the opportunity to work as a highly paid day laborer on screenplays including “Gone with the Wind” to rejuvenate himself personally and professionally before his sudden death at the age of 44. Those rewarding final years in Hollywood are the subject of Stewart O’Nan’s 14th novel “West of Sunset” and appearance March 21 at novelist Elizabeth Berg’s Writing Matters event at the Hemingway Museum in Oak Park.
We caught up with O’Nan for a few quick questions about Fitzgerald, “West of Sunset” and his admiration for people who react to dire circumstances with resilience and endurance.
And a reminder:
Author Stewart O’Nan discusses his novel ‘West of Sunset’
7 p.m. March 21
Hemingway Museum, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
“An Evening With Stewart O’Nan” will be held March 24 at 7 p.m. in the Mellon Middle School as part of Mt. Lebanon Public Library’s Joseph Wertheim Memorial Author Lecture Series. It’s free. No registration necessary.
Do you read the reviews or your books — good or bad?
I’ll read them to see if they say something interesting and tell me something more about the book that I might not know. Sometimes people are pretty insightful, especially in this case for this book. I am being reviewed sometimes by people that know more about Fitzgerald than I know, which is great. I think for the Huffpo [Huffington Post] and also for the Fitzgerald Society there was a woman who is writing a nonfiction book about, I think, Scott’s time in Hollywood.
Have you found yourself embraced by the Fitzgerald fans?
Yeah, yeah very much so. I think because they are interested just the way I’m interested. I think they are fascinated. They want to get closer. I think that is always the feeling you have with someone you admire, whether that is a good instinct or a bad instinct, especially for celebrity.