West of Sunset
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“. . . as close as it’s possible to come to the reality of Fitzgerald’s life.”
To many, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works epitomize the Jazz Age, that wild and decadent time when Bright Young Things like his hero Jay Gatsby made the Twenties roar. Few shone brighter in that hedonistic world than Fitzgerald and his glamorous wife Zelda who partied with the best of them.
West of Sunset begins in 1937 and focuses on the final years of Fitzgerald’s life. Zelda is mentally ill and living in an institution back east. Their teenage daughter Scottie is at an expensive school. In order to pay the bills, Fitzgerald is forced to take a job reworking movie scripts for MGM. He soon realizes his undoubted talents are being squandered by the uncaring studio system that sees him as just another paid hack. Revisiting old haunts, seeing familiar faces from his past including Hemingway and Bogart, he stumbles into an unexpected love affair with British gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. The road to true romance is rendered rocky by Fitzgerald’s alcoholism and broken promises, as he struggles to find meaning in a glamorous world that has almost passed him by. Somehow, he must rediscover his muse and become the great writer once more. Perhaps his idea for a new novel, The Last Tycoon, will be just what he needs.
O’Nan’s poignant novel depicts an older, sadder, but perhaps no wiser Fitzgerald as he tries to prove his glory days are far from over. A fictionalized account of the writer whose main claim to fame was to come after his death, West of Sunset is as close as it’s possible to come to the reality of Fitzgerald’s life.
Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews