Review of West of Sunset from Paste Magazine

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West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan Review
By Steve Nathans-Kelly
Paste Magazine

Two familiar quotations from revered American author F. Scott Fitzgerald have come to define the writer’s final years, each in its way emblematic of Fitzgerald’s titanic talent and well documented decline:

There are no second acts in American lives.

I’ve left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda’s sanitarium.

The first quote, unearthed among Fitzgerald’s notes for his unfinished last novel,The Last Tycoon, typifies the problematic side of Fitzgerald’s virtuosic genius: insightful, eloquent, alchemically agile at transmuting the personal into the universal … and also a little bit sloppy. The generally accepted interpretation of this quote holds that Fitzgerald lamented something akin to a line sung by a relatively resurgent 60-year-old Bob Dylan: “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.”

The problem with Fitzgerald’s “second acts” quote? In the world of Hollywood screenwriting where the author struggled in the last years of his life to script a return to literary glory, Fitzgerald’s life already approached the end of a devastating second act. Fitzgerald’s life lacked a third act: regeneration, redemption, resolution.

On the other hand, the second quote, conveyed in private correspondence, evokes with naked candor the irreversible dissipation of the last part of Fitzgerald’s life. Stewart O’Nan captures this final half-decade vividly in his new novel West of Sunset. O’Nan might accurately have subtitled it “The Hollywood Years.”

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Field of Fantasies: Baseball Stories of the Strange and Supernatural

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A Fantastic Anthology Combining the Love of Science Fiction with Our National Pastime

Of all the sports played across the globe, none has more curses and superstitions than baseball, America’s national pastime.

Field of Fantasies delves right into that superstition with short stories written by several key authors about baseball and the supernatural. Here you’ll encounter ghostly apparitions in the stands, a strangely charming vampire double-play combination, one fan who can call every shot and another who can see the past, a sad alternate-reality for the game’s most famous player, unlikely appearances on the field by famous personalities from Stephen Crane to Fidel Castro, a hilariously humble teenage phenom, and much more. In this wonderful anthology are stories from such award-winning writers as:

Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan (first U.S. print version of “A Face in the Crowd”)
Jack Kerouac
Karen Joy Fowler
Rod Serling
W. P. Kinsella
And many more!

Never has a book combined the incredible with great baseball fiction like Field of Fantasies. This wide-ranging collection reaches from some of the earliest classics from the pulp era and baseball’s golden age, all the way to material appearing here for the first time in a print edition. Whether you love the game or just great fiction, these stories will appeal to all, as the writers in this anthology bring great storytelling of the strange and supernatural to the plate, inning after inning.

b&n | amazon | indiebound | bam | powell’s

West of Sunset Book Tour

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New York City, NY
Barnes & Noble UWS, 1/13/2015
http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/store/1979?cat=AAA&subtype=detailList

Washington, DC
Politics & Prose, 1/14/2015
http://www.politics-prose.com/events

Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Free Library, with author Peter Carey, 1/15/2015
http://libwww.freelibrary.org/calendar/

Boston, MA
Harvard Bookstore, 1/20/2015
http://www.harvard.com/events/2015/01/

St. Paul, MN
Common Good Books, 1/21/2015
http://www.commongoodbooks.com/event/stewart-o%E2%80%99nan-reads-west-sunset

Tulsa, OK
Booksmart Tulsa, 1/22/2015
http://www.booksmarttulsa.com/events/

Danville, CA
Rakestraw Books, 1/23/2015
http://www.rakestrawbooks.com/upcoming-events

Sonoma, CA
Reader’s Books, 1/24/2015
http://readers.indiebound.com/

Berkley, CA
Books, INC, 1/26/2015
http://www.booksinc.net/event/2015-01

Los Angeles, CA
Diesel Books (Brentwood), 1/27/2015
http://www.dieselbookstore.com/brentwood-staff-recs-events-bestsellers-and-more

Pasadena, CA
Vroman’s Books, 1/28/2015
http://www.vromansbookstore.com/event

San Diego, CA
The Santaluz Club (co-hosted by Warwicks), 1/29/2015

Seattle, WA
The Pub @ Third Place Books, 1/30/2015
http://www.thirdplacebooks.com/rav-auth-event

Elliott Bay Books, 1/30/2015
http://www.elliottbaybook.com/node/events

Bellingham, WA
Village Books, 2/1/2015
http://www.villagebooks.com/event/2015/02/09/month/all/all/1

Cleveland, OH
Cuyahoga Public Library, 2/3/2015
http://www.cuyahogalibrary.org/Events.aspx

Pittsburgh, PA
East End Book Exchange, 2/7/2015
http://www.eastendbookexchange.com/shop/eastend/events.html

Asheville, NC
ABA Winter Institute, 2/8 – 2/11/2015
http://www.bookweb.org/wi2015/

Savannah, GA
Savannah Book Festival, 2/12 – 2/15/2015
http://www.savannahbookfestival.org/

The Inspiration Behind West of Sunset

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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