West of Sunset; Stewart O'Nan
Viking - 2015
Stewart O'Nan, is a long time favorite author of mine. I'm especially fond those Boston-based fiction novels has written, but his newest novel, West of Sunset, is a definite departure from his standard fare. I actually finished the book a while ago, but had never written a review, so this may seem more like some rambling thoughts based on notes I took as I read.
Basically, this novel is a ficitionalized account of the last three years of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life. It's the late 1930's and it's not the best of times for F. Scott. Zelda is in a mental institution, his own health is declining, as is his bank account. To stay afloat he gets advances on his past writing success, and hopes he'll feel inspired to write once again. He decides to move from North Carolina to Hollywood to try his hand at screenwriting for $1,000/week, an offer from Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. He needs the income to pay for Zelda's room & board as well as daughter Scottie's private boarding school.
There were references to many for the famous people from Hollywood in days gone by, some who served as little more than drinking buddies it seemed: Bogart, Dietrich, Cooper and even Shirley Temple. The opening scene really got to me with a description of F. Scott visiting 37 year old Zelda in the institution, where she has a broken tooth and is described as "crone-like and hawkish looking." In fact, that scene seemed perfect in that she wasn't the only one in the novel who had seen better days in terms of physical health, appearance, and the best days of their life having passed. O'Nan made me feel sorry Fitzgerald, a brilliant but yet conflicted man, with a tragic story that was his life.This is definitely not a story that will appeal to all readers. I didn't delve into it with high hopes, and even though the pace was someone slow, I was pleased to find that I actually liked it more than I expected to.
(copy sent by publisher)