By Kevin Nance , Special for USA TODAY
Is anything more poignant than genius in decline? It’s hard to imagine after reading West of Sunset, Stewart O’Nan’s almost unbearably bittersweet portrait of the once-great novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sad yet darkly glittering final years in Hollywood.
Stewart O’Nan read everything F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, including his love letters to his wife, Zelda, for his new novel based on the writer’s last few years. “We think of Fitzgerald as a tragic writer, but he’s very ironic and wry,” he says. O’Nan was in town last week to read from his new novel, “West of Sunset.”
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
O’NAN: I’m reading “The Most of It” by the poet Mary Ruefle. This book is sort of prose poetry. She writes like Lydia Davis: skewed, small short stories. I’m a big Davis fan. I love Russell Edson, too, a prose poet guy in the ’70s, who’s kind of absurdist. I always go back to the surrealists, too. I like anyone who’s making something goofy and whacky.
Stewart will be at Books Inc. tonight in Alameda, CA!
From an interview in Belt Magazine:
When time enough has passed for critics to start assessing how the Great Recession played out in American literature, it’s likely they’ll take a close look at Stewart O’Nan’s recent novels, especially 2007’s Last Night at the Lobster and 2011’s Emily, Alone. That’s partly because, dispiritingly enough, the shelf of novels that address the lower rungs of the middle class is a small one. But even in a crowded field, O’Nan’s books would stand out. In Lobster, O’Nan delivers both a close study of Manny, the manager of a soon-to-close Connecticut Red Lobster franchise, and of the workers and patrons who share their lives inside it during one day, captive to a brutal snowstorm. It’s early, but the novella is one of the most potent and sharpest portraits of work in the new century—few books in any era have done such a fine job of exploring how corporations stoke our loyalty, and how easily they betray it.
From The Believer Logger:
Brandon Hobson: In the past you’ve talked about point-of-view being the writer’s greatest tool. Can you talk a little more about that, and maybe how it’s better than, say, voice?
Stewart O’Nan: Getting inside your character’s head and letting the reader see the world through not just their eyes but their sensibility creates an intimacy that can’t be duplicated in any other medium. And point of view includes voice, discovering the appropriate language and tone for each character. Every choice contributes to bringing the character’s emotional world across to the reader, and as you’re making those choices in your early drafts, you as a writer understand more and more about your characters—their fears and desires, their history, the people closest to them—so that when they face situations, both you and the reader understand why they do the things they do, whether or not you (and the reader) agree with them.
Check out the Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin‘s interview with Stewart:
How has sports influenced you and your writing?
As a Pirates and Red Sox fan, I’ve learned that the good times don’t last forever, but neither do the bad ones. As Terry Francona says: “Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.”
You are a self-professed Pirates fan despite writing about the Red Sox in your book Faithful that you co-wrote with Stephen King. How did you come to be a Pirates fan and are you allowing yourself to become optimistic about the team yet?
My Grandmother O’Nan was a big Pirates fan. She listened to them on the radio. And my older brother and his friends were ballplayers and big Bucs fans. Like the library, Forbes Field was less than a mile from our house, so we’d take the bus there. My grandmother made sure we had tickets for the first game in Three Rivers.
I’m allowing myself to be optimistic about the Pirates for no other reason than they win when I go to the ballpark. Their home record is excellent this year, but even back in our 105-loss 2010 season, they were 20-10 at PNC when I was there.
This year I’ve got two 20-game plans plus some stray singles, so I’ll be there more than not. Let’s Go Bucs!