West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan – book review


As someone who was always interested in the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, this book threw off some of the dust from the last three years of Fitzgerald’s life. I really liked the way that O’Nan wrote about Fitzgerald’s life, incorporating all the problems he had to deal with; from Zelda’s mental issues, to their daughter Scottie, and severe money problems.


Even though I knew how Fitzgerald’s life had unraveled, it was disheartening to read how far he had fallen. Stewart O’Nan doesn’t ever try to manipulate our emotions; he simply lets us see the difficulties facing Fitzgerald at this time of his life.


While I found this book hard to read at times, since most of Fitzgerald’s problems were his own fault; such as the drinking and inability to hold onto the money he had previously made, it also made me angry. The need to drink while being a writer, whether a novelist, screenwriter or journalist, ruined so many of our fine writers. The other major problem that made me angry was how little value artists are given in our society. Some of our most celebrated novelists were earning very little as screenwriters in Hollywood. This was their way of making ends meet while at the same time they were acclaimed as brilliant writers for their novels.

I was pleased with how O’Nan told Fitzgerald’s story with such a soft touch. He simply told the story, and left it to us, the readers to decide what to do with it. There was no moral judgment, just the telling of the tale and leaving us to feel whatever at the end. My feelings were sadness and anger – sadness with how Fitzgerald’s life ended, and anger at such a waste of a fine writer. I recommend this book since it’s based on the facts and brings that period of time into wonderful focus for us.


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