Stewart O’Nan is the author of “Emily Alone” and “Henry, Himself.” He loves “Pittsburgh” by Frank Santoro, calling it “a gorgeous moving graphic memoir of growing up in Swissvale.” He also likes “Shopping Mall” by Matthew Newton, describing it as “a more analytical book-length personal essay exploring the shopping mall as a shared American experience, focusing on the author’s personal relationship with our own Monroeville Mall. Both make present worlds we as Pittsburghers know that have since vanished.”
If you can’t obtain those titles, Mr. O’ Nan wrote, “I’d recommend reading the big book on your shelf that you’ve tried to read several times but just couldn’t get through. ‘Ulysses,’ ‘Moby Dick,’ ‘Invisible Man,’ ‘A Little Life.’ Now’s the time, now that you have time. Don’t let that book beat you!”
O’Nan…excels at observing nuanced dramas and personalities playing out beneath the skin of something as mundane an extended family at their summer cottage, doing a jigsaw puzzle during a rainstorm. This is a book about how life’s major plotlines roll by beneath the tide of moments and routine, ocean flotsam, surfacing only to sink again.
“An Evening With Stewart O’Nan” will be held March 24 at 7 p.m. in the Mellon Middle School as part of Mt. Lebanon Public Library’s Joseph Wertheim Memorial Author Lecture Series. It’s free. No registration necessary.
Do you read the reviews or your books — good or bad?
I’ll read them to see if they say something interesting and tell me something more about the book that I might not know. Sometimes people are pretty insightful, especially in this case for this book. I am being reviewed sometimes by people that know more about Fitzgerald than I know, which is great. I think for the Huffpo [Huffington Post] and also for the Fitzgerald Society there was a woman who is writing a nonfiction book about, I think, Scott’s time in Hollywood.
Have you found yourself embraced by the Fitzgerald fans?
Yeah, yeah very much so. I think because they are interested just the way I’m interested. I think they are fascinated. They want to get closer. I think that is always the feeling you have with someone you admire, whether that is a good instinct or a bad instinct, especially for celebrity.
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.
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.