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As with most of my books, I came to write West of Sunset in a roundabout way. I was researching a nonfiction project, and while I was paging through a history of Golden Age Hollywood, I came across a mention of Fitzgerald’s time as a screenwriter. An abject failure, it said. A waste.
I’d known from the old biographies that at the end of his life Fitzgerald was broke and drunk much of the time, in poor health, his books fallen out of print, and had traveled west to make some money, but I had no idea that he’d worked on Gone With the Wind and shared a hallway at MGM with Dorothy Parker, Aldous Huxley and James M. Cain. He took a villa at the Garden of Allah and fell in love, wrote dozens of short stories and started The Last Tycoon, unfinished yet still regarded as one of the great Hollywood novels. And throughout he was flying back east to take strange, supposedly therapeutic family vacations with Zelda, furloughed from her sanitarium, and their daughter Scottie, off at a pricey boarding school.
Despite our view of him as a literary giant and dashing Gatsby, Fitzgerald was an outsider–a poor boy from a rich neighborhood, a scholarship kid at private school, a Midwesterner in the East, an Easterner in the West. I’d thought of him in Hollywood as a legendary figure in a legendary place, yet the more I read, the more he struck me as someone with limited resources trying to hold together a world that’s flying apart, if not gone already. Someone who keeps working and hoping, knowing it might not be enough. And I thought: that’s who you write about.
How does it feel to be you? Unknowable, of course, but fiction, better than any other medium, comes closest to satisfying our curiosity. I hope West of Sunset brings readers closer to Scott, and that they enjoy their time with him and Bogie and Dottie and Scottie and Zelda. I did, and I wish I were still there with them. Salinger was right. Once you’re done telling a story, you start missing everybody.
- Stewart O’Nan
A “rich, sometimes heartbreaking” (Dennis Lehane) novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood
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).
January 13, 2015
Praise for West of Sunset
“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
“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
“I’ll direct my enthusiasm for West of Sunset to writers who revere Fitzgerald’s short story ‘Babylon Revisited.’ Stewart O’Nan captures Fitzgerald’s mood of spiritual reflection, without trying to imitate Fitzgerald’s voice. This book is an inoculation against self-pity. It’s not a mock Fitzgerald novel, but an original portrait of a writer struggling to keep his dignity while trying to make a living. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years and it deserves a cheering crowd.”—Michael Tolkin
Faithful: The 10th Anniversary Special Edition by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King Deluxe Special Editions to Benefit Two Good Causes A minimum of thirty percent of the retail price from this special edition will be donated to The Haven Foundation and to organizations that promote cancer care and research. The Haven Foundation gives financial assistance to provide temporary support needed to safeguard and sustain the careers of established freelance artists. The authors also support cancer care and research organizations such as The Jimmy Fund in Boston, Massachusetts. You can donate directly to The Haven Foundation via their website and to The Jimmy Fund via their website.