NPR/Fresh Air’s book critic Maureen Corrigan recommends a few titles for troubled times: ‘The Women in Black,’ ‘The Colossus of New York,’ ‘Last Night at the Lobster,’ ‘Are You An Echo?’ and ‘Everything Is Under Control.’ (~45 minutes in)
Maureen Corrigan, author and NPR book critic, talks to co-host Nicole Nelson about her latest book, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be And Why It Endures, as well as what some of Fitzgerald’s revisions left behind in earlier drafts of the novel, the importance of water imagery in the book, and her experience retracing some of the author’s steps. In the second half, Stewart O’Nan discusses his latest novel West of Sunset, which fictionalizes the last chapter of Fitzgerald’s life, the Hollywood years. He talks about coming late to appreciate Fitzgerald himself, what kind of research was required to immerse himself in the world of Hollywood in the late 1930s, and how his experience writing narrative nonfiction helped create a world that served both history and his character. (Broadcast date: February 25, 2015)
By Maureen Corrigan
… That grim yet undeniably fascinating last act of Fitzgerald’s life is the subject of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeous new novel, “West of Sunset.” As he has demonstrated in “Last Night at the Lobster” and “Emily, Alone,” O’Nan is a writer alert to the courage and beauty inherent in the stories of people who simply have to keep on keeping on. What interests him about Fitzgerald’s exile in Hollywood is not so much the glitter (although Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich and other stars make appearances), nor his love affair with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham (whose blond good looks evoked the young Zelda), but rather Fitzgerald’s anxious commitment to his work as a screenwriter. Most of the movies Fitzgerald was assigned to were dreck (although there was a short stint on “Gone with the Wind”). Nevertheless, sitting down every day in his office or the various furnished cottages and apartments he rented in and around Hollywood, Fitzgerald fueled himself with cigarettes and Cokes (or, frequently, something more potent) as he labored to make flimsy scripts better. Fitzgerald was always a worrier, relentlessly tinkering with “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender Is the Night,” even after the publication of those novels. It’s that F. Scott Fitzgerald — the worn-out yet relentless craftsman — whom O’Nan compassionately evokes in “West of Sunset.”
That dazed-and-confused trend kicked off in January with Stewart O’Nan’s novella, The Odds, about a middle-aged, unemployed couple about to divorce in order to protect what little assets they have left. First, though, Marion and Art Fowler book a deluxe suite at one of the honeymoon hotels in Niagara Falls and get ready to gamble their remaining cash at the hotel casino. O’Nan’s go-for-broke literary style — by turns elegant and ruefully funny — rivets readers to the fateful spin of that roulette wheel.