Review of West of Sunset from Amazon (An Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2015)

amazon

When an ambitious writer hops onto a high wire and strides across with grace, it’s a wonderful thing to behold. And I don’t mean this as hyperbole. Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset, his glimmering fictional biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s troubled years in Hollywood, is simply one of the best books I’ve read in many months. In some ways, this is a portrait of the artist as an aging man. We see Fitzgerald, “like an athlete,” awake each day at 5 to write, then toil through long hours at “the Iron Lung,” MGM’s catty screenwriters’ wing, then scratch out a few more words at night (which would turn into his unfinished final novel, The Last Tycoon). “When he was working, it worked,” O’Nan tells us. “It was when he stopped that the world returned, and his problems with it…” In truth, not a whole lot happens. Fitzgerald pops his pills, visits Zelda and Scottie back East, has a messy yet loving affair, and occasionally gets stupid drunk. We’re treated to sassy walk-ons by Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, and Humphrey Bogart. But part of the quiet, somber and entrancing appeal is how fully we become absorbed by Fitzgerald’s fight for relevance, or at least a few bucks. Ultimately, it’s quite heartbreaking to see the legendary creator of Gatsby cling to his literary dignity, his reputation and sanity slipping from his grasp, an outsider to the end.

Neal Thompson

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