West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan (♦♦♦)
After his stunning success as a writer chronicling the glittering Jazz Age, Francis Scott Fitzgerald squandered his well-earned fortune partying and traveling the world in style beside his wife Zelda. Eventually, they fell on hard times, with Zelda having to be treated for mental illness in clinics in Switzerland and the States.
Meanwhile, after calling a few favors, Scott had a—not quite successful—second stint in Hollywood, towards the beginning of WWII, as a screenwriter for several movies that were never made. With his few royalty earnings and a dwindling salary, he had to pay for Zelda’s clinic, Scotty’s private schools, and his ever more constrained lifestyle.
I had a mixed experience with this book. The first 100-150 pages were solidly four stars, and read like Fitzgerald’s novel The Beautiful and Damned, which is no coincidence considering that that novel was mostly autobiographical. The first half of West of Sunset “had the feel” of a Fitzgerald novel, not so much for the lyricism but for the writing style, but in the second half, that “Fitzgerald feel” was drowned by the repetition of Scott’s transgressions: getting drunk, begging his lover for forgiveness, making up, asking his closest friends for money, transgressing again …That’s where O’Nan lost me, in the nitty-gritty of the everyday life and the failures of an alcoholic.
The fact that West of Sunset was told from Scott Fitzgerald’s POV didn’t help the story, because by the end he was consumed by his addiction, his regrets, his failures, and the financial strains that he had on his shoulders by virtue of being the head of the family, and supposedly the only responsible adult.