cover image West of Sunset

West of Sunset

Stewart O’Nan. Viking, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-670-78595-7

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. (Jan.)