Title: West Of Sunset
Author: Stuart O’Nan
Year Of Publication: 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Summary: For a time F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scott to his friends) lived a glamorous life. The Fitzgerald life recounted in O’Nan’s “West of Sunset” is not that. The novel imagines the last years of the writer’s life, upon his arrival in Los Angeles to start a career as a screenwriter.
I don’t know that there was every a sexier time to see and be seen in Hollywood, and O’Nan fills his world with glitz and debauchery and star power that it makes you worry about the health of Humphrey Bogart’s liver.
But that’s an unimportant liver to the story. The liver of Fitzgerald is what we care about here. When we meet him he’s a drunk and a hired gun. He needs money, you see. His wife, the infamous Zelda, has been institutionalized; his daughter is starting college; then of course there’s the expenses associated with Los Angeles. He works for hundreds of dollars a week touching up unproduced or unremarkable scripts to keep the lights on and the Gordon’s flowing.
It’s an addicting read, one that compels you forward like the urge to pour a strong drink. We meet stars and socialites, from Bogart and his third wife to Hemingway and Dottie Parker – whoever shows up on the MGM lot that day or is found in the parties in the hills.
The story ends sadly, but not unexpectedly, at the author’s premature passing from a heart attack. He left behind friends and loved ones but his passing wasn’t tragic. It was inevitable, a product of his lifestyle. It’s possible that we didn’t need any more Fitzgerald the man, the depressed and sickly alcoholic who seemed to leave craters in the wake of personal failings; it’s likely we needed more Fitzgerald the writer. “The Last Tycoon’ was published post-mortem, a reflection of his time in the city of angels. And it lives on.
TL;DR: Throw F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and cheap drugstore gin into a blender and pulse until smooth.
Verdict: Those at all interested in imagining late 30’s Hollywood or the life and gossip of one of America’s most notorious writers will find plenty here. Grounded in fact, it’s a bit like reality TV for literati. More please.