West of Sunset
written by Stewart O’Nan
published by Viking – Penguin
About the book – from Goodreads: In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in ruins, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December 1940, he would be dead of a heart attack.
Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeously and gracefully written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, falls in love with brassy gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and daughter, Scottie.
Fitzgerald’s orbit of literary fame and the Golden Age of Hollywood is brought vividly to life through the novel’s romantic cast of characters, from Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to Humphrey Bogart. A sympathetic and deeply personal portrait of a flawed man who never gave up in the end, even as his every wish and hope seemed thwarted, West of Sunset confirms O’Nan as “possibly our best working novelist” (Salon).
Be sure to check out the readers’ guide for West of Sunset. You can find it here.
“It would appear to be a daunting task to write a biographical novel of one of our most iconic writers, yet O’Nan avoids every pitfall. Focusing on the last years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, when he was depleted both mentally and physically from overwork and too much drink, O’Nan, in understated prose, renders a heartbreaking portrait of an artist soldiering on in the face of personal and professional ruin . . . O’Nan’s convincing characterization of a man burdened by guilt and struggling to hold onto his dignity is, at once, a moving testament to grace under pressure and an intimate look at a legend.”—Booklist (STARRED)
“O’Nan places Scott back at center stage, with a sympathetic portrayal of a troubled genius, a kind but deeply flawed man… [and] has crafted an insightful glimpse into a sad period in Fitzgerald’s life, as he fades into poverty, drunkenness and anonymity among a cast of notables, after his and Zelda’s reign as America’s literary golden couple and before his resurgence into universal acclaim.”—Kirkus
“O’Nan taps into primary-source material on Fitzgerald to craft a realistic piece of historical fiction…. Fitzgerald comes across as a haunting, multifaceted, sympathetic character… [His] slide into drugs, alcoholism, and the heart disease that shortened his life is tragic to behold; Fitzgerald fans will mourn his loss all over again.”—Library Journal
“West of Sunset is a rich, sometimes heartbreaking journey through the disintegration of an American legend. O’Nan captures the fire and frailty of F. Scott Fitzgerald with an understated grace that would have made Fitzgerald himself stand up and applaud.” – Dennis Lehane
“An achingly nuanced love story and one of the best biographical novels to come along in years. O’Nan’s great achievement here is in so convincingly inhabiting the character of Scott Fitzgerald and of the people surrounding him during his descent into the clarifying depths of 1930s Hollywood.”–T.C. Boyle
“O’Nan is an incredibly versatile and charming writer. This novel, which imagines F. Scott Fitzgerald’s troubled time in Hollywood (with cameos by Dorothy Parker, Bogie, and Hemingway), takes up (like much of O’Nan’s work) that essential conundrum of grace struggling with paucity. One brilliant American writer meditating on another–what’s not to love?” —George Saunders
“I’ll direct my enthusiasm for West of Sunset to writers who revere Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited.” Stewart O’Nan captures Fitzgerald’s mood of spiritual reflection, without trying to imitate Fitzgerald’s voice. This book is an inoculation against self-pity. It’s not a mock Fitzgerald novel, but an original portrait of a writer struggling to keep his dignity while trying to make a living. I don’t doubt the biographical details but it’s a waste of the book to check it against fidelity to fact; if Fitzgerald wasn’t friendly with Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot in 1939, he is now. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years and it deserves a cheering crowd.” —Michael Tolkin