A “rich, sometimes heartbreaking” (Dennis Lehane) novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood, from the acclaimed author of Emily, Alone and Henry, Himself
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).
The last few years of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life, when he lived in Hollywood (the title alludes to Los Angeles's Sunset Boulevard), are the subject of this earnest but only fitfully interesting novel from O'Nan (Last Night at the Lobster). The book inadvertently illustrates the truth of Fitzgerald's famous dictum: "There are no second acts in American lives." Conventional wisdom has it that Fitzgerald went back to Hollywood for money surely true with his wife, Zelda, a patient at an expensive mental hospital in North Carolina but this novel articulates a broader rationale: "He'd come west not just for the money but to redeem his previous failures here." There's something touching (if slightly surreal) about the author of The Great Gatsby hoping for redemption by writing film scripts, but O'Nan's Fitzgerald too often conjures the reader's pity, with his desperate need for money, fame, and love from readers and romantic interests and his alcoholism. The plot adds romantic intrigue to the mix in the form of Sheilah Graham, the L.A. gossip columnist (like Fitzgerald, a parvenu) who became Fitzgerald's lover. The book is thoroughly researched, featuring a huge supporting cast of famous players Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, and Dorothy Parker, among others but it feels more like a television docudrama than a fully realized novel.