Can’t get enough of Scott & Zelda? STEWART O’NAN has taken a piece of literary and film history and crafted a biographical novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final years. WEST OF SUNSET has Fitzgerald trying to make money writing screenplays in the era of Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Ernest Hemingway, and Dorothy Parker. The bit players in this drama are famous with famously indulgent and often counter-productive life styles. It’s 1937…MGM dominates, war is on the horizon, Zelda is institutionalized, Scottie is about to enter college, and Scott is broke, alcoholic, and very much in love with Sheilah Graham. O’Nan captures the temptations, frustrations, nostalgia, and desperation, as Fitzgerald tries to hold everything together. The legend does not yet exist. Dignity is slippery, a veneer applied to the legend only after Fitzgerald’s early death.
O’Nan’s usual perceptive writing amplifies Fitzgerald’s life in the everyday details: The bottles of coke to keep him going with the writing. The hours it takes for a few lines of the scripts. The cynicism of the other writers. The constant frustration of having his scripts rewritten and cancelled. The ambivalence of feelings about Zelda and their past… and about Sheila and their future. The worries about money and how to pay for Scottie’s college. The stashed pints of gin always beckoning.
This novel illuminates a familiar story by getting inside the psyche of a troubled man, his ordinary days made extraordinary by his talent and ultimate achievements.