WEST OF SUNSET, by Stewart O’Nan (Viking). This novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years tracks him as he hacks away at Hollywood screenplays, perpetually menaced by poor health, poor finances, and a sense of his rusting legacy. Drowning in memories of a world “all promise and sweet fumbling,” Scott struggles not to disappoint his teen-age daughter, falls for a mysterious gossip columnist, and visits the institutionalized, tragically unstable Zelda. The narration wanders between wistful elegy and snappy one-liners delivered by, among others, Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, and Shirley Temple. O’Nan’s adroitness with atmosphere and period detail makes Fitzgerald’s dreams of creating worthy work, even with his best days behind him, absorbing and poignant.
O’Nan, the author of a dozen novels and co-author, with Stephen King, of a book about the 2004 Boston Red Sox, kindly agreed to answer questions from his home in Pittsburgh.
“The Odds” is set almost entirely at Niagara Falls. Aside from the Falls’ reputation as a honeymoon destination, what drew you to this setting?
I wanted Art and Marion to work out their private feelings in a public space, and one most people know. Niagara Falls is a fantasyland, both natural and artificial, beautiful and ugly, American and Canadian. We associate it with corny, old-time romance but also with risk and danger, so it seemed like a perfect stage for a pair of reluctant daredevils.