By Ted Weesner
How, in Fitzgerald’s own words, did he crack up? And why has no one dramatically gone to this fertile place before? Thankfully, in his 15th novel, “West of Sunset,” Stewart O’Nan has inserted himself into this fecund mess and rather shockingly — at least for this formerly historical-fiction-phobic reviewer — exits with a mesmerizing and haunting novel of his own.
‘West of Sunset’: Pittsburgh’s Stewart O’Nan tells a sympathetic tale of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final years in Hollywood
By Eileen Weiner
With each new novel, the prolific and protean Stewart O’Nan surprises us again. Through his seemingly limitless imagination, we have come to know, and to care about, a woman on Oklahoma’s death row with a tale to tell; the oddball crew working the final night at a failing Red Lobster in Connecticut; a paralyzed African-American teenager and his struggling community in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty; and an 80-year-old Pittsburgh widow confronting the travails of aging and loneliness.
Despite wildly different tones and approaches, the Pittsburgh writer’s books are united by his compassion for his characters and careful attention to the details that define and reveal their lives and souls.
These traits are much in evidence in the author’s latest surprise, a biographical novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years, when he was desperately trying to halt the downward spiral of his professional and personal lives by working as a scriptwriter in Hollywood.