Patrik Henry Bass of Essence Magazine reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in The Book Reader.
While writing "The Last Tycoon," his fifth and final novel, author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously scribbled the line: "There are no second acts in American lives." Stewart O’Nan, one of the best living American novelists, mines the final years of the famed Great Gatsby storyteller’s life and turns up literary gold.
"West of Sunset" offers a far different Fitzgerald than the glittering and dazzling chronicler of the Jazz Age many of us envisioned when reading classics such as "Tender Is the Night" and "This Side of Paradise." In fact, "West of Sunset" could’ve easily been titled The Other Side of Paradise.
When Sunset, opens, Fitzgerald’s novels have gone out of vogue, Zelda, his fascinating wife, is in a mental institution, and one of St. Paul, Minnesota’s favorite sons is struggling to pay his daughter Scottie’s boarding school tuition by working as a hack for MGM studios. None of this is particularly easy for the talented scribe, and in fact, Fitzgerald’s alcoholism and tuberculosis only complicates matters.
Fans of O’Nan’s work such as Emily Alone knows that this is a writer who specializes in heartbreak, sometimes violent heartbreak. And that may well be the magic of West of Sunset. The final years of Fitzgerald’s life have often been portrayed as a bleak house of cards, worthy of Dickens, falling apart, rapidly, piece by melodramatic piece. O’Nan gives us another Fitzgerald. True, Fitzgerald is broken and humble, but in Sunset O’Nan lifts Fitzgerald up just enough to remind us of the creator of the Great American Novel's true power. That is, to make us fall in love with words that draw us in, grip us, and sometimes never let us go.