West of Sunset: A Novel
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A “mesmerizing and haunting” (The Boston Globe) novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood
Look out for City of Secrets coming from Viking on April 26, 2016
In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to an asylum and his finances in ruin, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s graceful and elegiac novel West of Sunset. With flashbacks to Fitzgerald’s glamorous Jazz Age 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 their daughter, Scottie. 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. Written with striking grace and subtlety, this is a wise and intimate portrait of a man trying his best to hold together a world that’s flying apart.
Benzedrine. He still snuck a cigarette here and there, but not enough to matter. He’d smoked his whole life. It wasn’t like he’d get his wind back. Since he’d quit, he’d developed a potbelly he was keenly aware of in bed. He’d always been slender, a natural bantamweight. Now even a sit-up could kill him. “Are you all right?” she asked, because he’d gone silent beneath her. Sometimes he was so focused he forgot to breathe. “Yes.” “How’s that?” she said. “That’s lovely.” He wished she wouldn’t
Scottie wrote. Most of the time she’s fine, just a little vague around the edges. When she gets excited and starts going on about God and the cosmos, it’s obvious, but that’s not often. It’s when she runs out of gas and just sits there that you notice, and that happens regularly. I think Grandma’s afraid of her since she broke the door. She’s still walking five miles a day and rides a bike all over town. Everybody knows her, which is good. She has the church and the library. I don’t think she’s
done nothing strenuous, yet his arm throbbed. He rubbed it as if that might get rid of the ache, opened and closed one hand experimentally. A dull pang like heartburn made him wince and grit his teeth. “Blast it,” he said, and groped his way to a stool. The darkness held off. In minutes he was fine, just clammy, blotting his brow with his handkerchief. He could stand, walk. “Mister,” the clerk stopped him. “Your cigarettes.” The doctor called it a spasm, not an actual attack. He upped his
Kansas City, and by the time they landed in Albuquerque he decided he would marry Sheilah. He called from a payphone to inform her. “Did you ask her for a divorce?” “Yes,” he said, but when she came to pick him up, she saw he was drunk and he admitted he hadn’t. She dropped him at the Garden, telling him not to call her. “To our next ex-wives,” Bogie said, toasting Mayo, and Scott raised his glass. Alone again, housebound in his robe and slippers, he was determined to finish the script. He
could take on more assignments there, or they could ask Max for an advance on the novel, once he had a sizable chunk of it done. Though he could argue that he’d never worked harder, or in worse circumstances, there was nothing he could fully refute, and no point. The sentiment was clear. Ober had carried him for years, like the corner grocer in Buffalo extending credit to his mother when they were short. No more. When he was flush Ober would be there to collect his share, but in the lean times