Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan

A “rich, sometimes heartbreaking” (Dennis Lehane) novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood 

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).

Received for review.

I have to say that I've always thought of F. Scott Fitzgerald as sort of an ass.  Needless to say I was never particularly impressed by Zelda either.  However, I was intrigued enough by their tempestuous relationship that I decided to give this a try and I'm quite pleased that I did.

This was a beautiful period piece that drew you right into Fitzgerald's rather exotic world of 1930s Hollywood.  The characters were rich and beautifully imagined.  Everything felt very real and as if you were reading a biography of Fitzgerald rather than a fictional account.  

The circumstances of Fitzgerald's final years were, I gathered, supposed to make you feel bad for him but they really didn't.  The book helped me increase my understanding of the man but I certainly didn't like him any more after reading this.  Surprisingly, it actually led me to dislike Zelda even more than Fitzgerald.  They were two spoiled, toxic people in a doomed relationship.

Overall, this was a very interesting, beautifully written read.  Fitzgerald fans should find this fascinating and all other readers will enjoy the well crafted story.  I certainly recommend it.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

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