Wednesday, February 11, 2015

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan: Pick or Pass?


West of Sunset
by Stewart O'Nan
Viking, 2015
305 pages
source: review copy from publisher via Netgalley

Regular readers of this blog know I am a huge fan of author Stewart O'Nan. I am in awe of his ability to turn ordinary people and the mundane events of daily life into novels filled with characters and situations that genuinely matter to me. O'Nan also has the distinction of being the only author I have ever pre-ordered.

His new novel, West of Sunset, is a bit of a departure. As you've probably heard, the novel is about F. Scott Fitzgerald, specifically the last three years of his life. He is a "has been" in literary circles, his health is failing, and Zelda is institutionalized. He moves to Hollywood to try his hand at screenwriting. There are no ordinary people or mundane events here. Instead, big time celebrities grace these pages - Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Bogie, Joan Crawford, George Oppenheimer, and the list goes on.

The novels starts off slowly. Very slowly. In fact, I considered abandoning it. HOWEVER, it is Stewart O'Nan and I did request a review copy, so I chose to continue and was eventually rewarded.

Should you read West of Sunset?  I do recommend this novel, but with reservations. Hopefully my "Pick or Pass" will help you make your decision.

Pick up West of Sunset  if:

  • You are a die-hard fan of Stewart O'Nan and want to read everything he has ever written.
  • You can't get enough of F. Scott Fitzgerald, his novels, or his life with Zelda.
  • You generally enjoy fictionalized accounts of the lives of famous people.
  • You appreciate a beautifully written, well-researched piece of fiction which provides insight into the life of its subject.

Pass on West of Sunset  if:

  • You are curious about Stewart O'Nan and would like to try one of his novels. Do yourself a favor and pick up Last Night at the Lobster  instead.
  • You don't have much interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hollywood. This will surely bore you to death.
  • Your primary interest in the Fitzgerald household is Zelda. She's a minor player here.
  • You often wonder why, after so much research on the subject, an author chooses to write a novel instead of a biography.

What do you think? Will you pick or pass?

34 comments:

  1. Love O'Nan's writing, but I still haven't tried this one base on the mixed reviews. Thanks for your honest review.

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    Replies
    1. Diane - Unless the subject matter really appeals to you, it's probably okay to skip this one.

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  2. I've read two of his books and neither blew me away. Which makes me feel bad. I do intend on reading Lobster at some point, just because that seems to be everyone's favorite.If I don't like that one, then I think I'm done.

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    Replies
    1. Sandy - Please don't let this be the third! Give Lobster a try before you decide O'Nan isn't for you.

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  3. I haven't read his work so I guess I'll skip this one. I think I have another of his books, but it's not Last Night at the Lobster.

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    Replies
    1. Kathy - Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone are both wonderful if you have either of them.

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  4. I'm so confused! The premise sounds fantastic and I would love to learn more about Fitzgerald but the painfully slow start does worry me a bit. Maybe I'll just stick with a biography of Fitzgerald and look for Last Night at the Lobster.

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    Replies
    1. Katherine - This is a hard sell for me. I like the novel much more in retrospect, but didn't love it while I was reading,

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  5. I loved this one but I can see why some people did not. I like how you structured the review. I am having a bit of trouble writing my own review up. I seem to be at a loss for words. But I grew up in Hollywood so I loved all of the bits about the locale and all of the studio stuff.

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    Replies
    1. Ti - The Hollywood angle didn't do much for me, but I still liked the book. I was hoping this format would highlight both the pros and cons.

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  6. I haven't read anything by this author so I think I'll pass!

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  7. It sounds like a very depressing book. If the author is a favorite, it might be worth reading, but the subject matter is dismal.

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    1. JaneGS - It certainly isn't very cheerful. I had no idea Fitzgerald's last years were so tragic.

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  8. I am not familiar with this author. Thanks for sharing your take on this book. I don't think it would be for me.

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    Replies
    1. Pat - I highly recommend this author and think you would enjoy his writing. Try Last Night at the Lobster sometime.

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  9. I've seen a lot of on the fence reviews of this one. Since I've not read his books before I think I'll pass. I do love me some Zelda and Scott though.

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    Replies
    1. Anita - I'm definitely on the fence here. Love the author, but not wild about this particular book.

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  10. I love the way you structured your review. It let me know definitively that this book is not for me.

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    Replies
    1. Kaye -Thanks! I'm planning to use this "Pick or Pass" review structure again.

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  11. I read Last Night at the Lobster back in 2008 and while I didn't really care for it (you can read my review here), I did love Emily, Alone, and plan to read it a second time later this year. I still want to read The Odds, too, but I'm going to take a pass on this new book. Don't care a bit about SF or all the Hollywood gossip. Fun way to review a book, JoAnn! Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Les - Emily, Alone is my favorite O'Nan novel, but I thought Last Night at the Lobster has a more universal appeal. I thought O'Nan nailed Niagara Falls in The Odds. Have you read Wish You Were Here?

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    2. I haven't read Wish You Were Here, although I had to double-check my blog since the description sounded so familiar! I think I'll read The Odds first then give WYWH a try.

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    3. Les - Wish You Were Here is a prequel (of sorts) to Emily, Alone. I remember reading it over a long Labor Day weekend several years ago - a perfect finale to summer.

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    4. Good to know! I'll plan to read it prior to re-reading Emily, Alone. Thanks!

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  12. I'll probably pass. I haven't read Steward O'Nan yet, though he is on my TBR list. I will look Last Night at the Lobster instead!

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    Replies
    1. Athira - That one is a much better introduction to the author, I think.

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  13. I love the Pick or Pass section. I like to be able to decide quickly whether or not to increase my already teetering TBR pile.

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    1. Amy - Thanks! This review format came to me during a recent bout of insomnia ;-)

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  14. I will definitely be reading this at some point. I love the idea of it and I love reading about the Fitzgeralds. :D Love the Pick or Pass format btw, super cool!

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    Replies
    1. Jennifer - Thanks! I never realized how tragic FSF's last few years were.

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  15. Love how you did this post - very creative! Seems I should have "passed" based on your criteria: I had never read O'Nan (but have now added Last Night at the Lobster to my TBR list) and am much more interested in Zelda than in Scott. But, I'm really liking A Touch of Stardust right now...novel set during the filming of Gone With the Wind and Scott F. has already made a few appearances. Might be a good choice for those who were disappointed with West of Sunset.

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    1. Sarah - I'll have to look into A Touch of Stardust. Glad you like this format... think I'll be using it again!

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  16. He was here at Playhouse Square recently but I missed him :(

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