Elizabeth Strout on West of Sunset

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From the Basler Zeitung – Elizabeth Strout on Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset

Stewart O’Nan is back – and his book, West of Sunset – is an amazement.  It covers the last years of the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the years he was in Hollywood, and involves, necessarily, his relationship with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham.    All this would be interesting enough on its own merits, but O’Nan has pulled off an astonishing feat.  He inhabits Fitzgerald in a way that is just remarkable.  I love Fitzgerald, I would have a natural inclination to keep him to myself, and yet the Fitzgerald O’Nan gives us feels like the Fitzgerald of my dreams; in this way the book rises up to enfold the reader, it enfolded this reader naturally and exquisitely.

We see Fitzgerald at the beginning taking Zelda for a drive, we see him on the train west, we see him at the Studio, and the Garden of Allah, but we really really see him — and we feel him.  Everyone is here, Ernest Hemingway, Bogart, Dottie Parker, Scottie Fitzgerald, and Zelda too. And yet it is not the cast of characters that makes this book so deeply compelling, it is as if the book itself has been imbued with the very spirit of Fitzgerald.  When he travels East again to see Zelda, the pace never falters, every word of this book scoops us along.

And when, at the end, he is standing by the mantel – the famous mantel that we know will be the last thing he touches – O’Nan takes us with him right until his last thought: But I’m not done.  I wanted to cry out, “No!”  And yet, I will say – he is not done, not now, not with this book.  It adds enormously to the Scott Fitzgerald I have always loved.

I can only thank Stewart O’Nan for bringing this version of this writer to me in such a way.  And only Stewart O’Nan, with his meticulous care and precision he brings to the page, could have done it.  Bravo!

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