Original publish date: 21 November 2014
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” This quintessential quotation from The Great Gatsby fits very well with the story told of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life post-Jazz Age in Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset.
Fitzgerald’s personal story revolves around his endeavor to make ends meet as a Hollywood writer to help pay for his wife Zelda’s hospitalization and his daughter Scottie’s schooling. The narrative acts as a remembrance of what their lives were like as they deal with the issues that arise from Zelda’s mental instability. The story is filled with society types, the literature crowd, and film powerhouse figures making their cameos in Fitzgerald’s life and makes the narrative far more robust, especially if you’re like me and familiar with the literary and filmic figures presented in the text. Now, as interesting as a remembrance of Fitzgerald’s work would be, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting in the conventional sense without a love story. Cue the entrance of English society gal Shelia Graham, who makes Fitzgerald think of a younger Zelda and fuels his obsessive drive to have her in his life.
There tends to be a certain discontentedness that comes in later life and can stem from those you surround yourself with, particularly your significant others; when comparing things to the past and what they once were is dangerous and can negatively effect your state of mind, all of which is encapsulated within O’Nan’s narrative of Fitzgerald’s life. The text is full of wonderful detail that denotes thorough research and provides a comprehensive picture of Fitzgerald as a man as opposed to the myth or legend that surrounds the idolized author of Jazz Age greats like The Great Gatsby. Moving between memories and current life was well-crafted and easily guides the reader to make necessary connections.
Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.