Tag Archives: Stewart O’Nan

Review: West of Sunset

West of SunsetWest of Sunset
By Stewart O’Nan
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670785957, January 13, 2015, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

The glitter and sparkle of the Jazz Age is not present in this novel. Instead, we are given the gritty bits of a struggling F. Scott Fitzgerald as he tries to make it in Hollywood while, poor Zelda languishes away in a sanitarium.

The Rest of It:

The Great Gatsby is a novel that I love more and more as time passes, but I was not a fan of it when I first read it. Turns out, many did not care for Gatsby when it was first released. Written in 1925,the book did not sell well and was widely unpopular with many. Unable to match the success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald found himself if a bit of a predicament. Zelda, his wife, was losing her mind and living full-time in a sanitarium and his daughter, Scottie, was attending a rather expensive boarding school which frankly, he could not afford. To make ends meet, he moves to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter for MGM. West of Sunset is a fictionalized account of his life in Hollywood and his long-time affair with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham.

I should tell you that this book has received very mixed reviews but I adored it. I knew little about Fitzgerald’s life in Hollywood and I found it all very fascinating to read about. Far from being a Golden Boy, he struggled to turn out quality work and many of his film projects were shelved but his daily interactions, his attempt to participate actively in an affair with Graham while taking care of his wife and daughter, wore him down quickly.

As in real life, the Fitzgerald we read about in West of Sunset is weak and chronically ill and being an alcoholic doesn’t help matters. Graham is constantly coming to his aid to nurse him back to health. The long weekends at the beach house, spent wiping his brow and tending to his every need. As a reader, you can’t help but wonder why a successful woman like Graham puts up with it, but love is a funny thing and although the falls from grace continue to plague them, she remains in his corner through all of it.

In between the long periods of illness, there is a lot of writing and lunches with Hollywood execs and interactions with big stars like Joan Crawford. The Hollywood that O’Nan writes about is the old Hollywood that’s we’ve all come to know. There is glamour, but not the type of glamour Fitzgerald participates in or contributes to. His world is colored by his need for drink which lends a darkness to an otherwise exciting time.

I found myself fascinated with all of it. After finishing the book, I wanted to re-read Gatsby or pick-up one of his other books. I am a big fan of O’Nan’s work and West of Sunset is no exception. Just know going in, that it’s not the glittery, feel-good book that you might expect from its cover.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster
By Stewart O’Nan
(Penguin (Non-Classics), Paperback, 9780143114420, October 2008, 160pp.)

The Short of It:

O’Nan’s realistic take on the working class is as impressive as it is simple. He knows his characters and tells it like it is.

The Rest of It:

Manny is the general manager of a Red Lobster on its last day of business. Located in a rundown, New England mall…the “Lobster” hasn’t performed as well as corporate would have liked, so it’s being shutdown. Only three of the employees have been transferred to a local Olive Garden, the rest have been laid off and they all come together on this last night of business during one of the worst storms of the year.

I think true readers know how difficult it is to take every day situations and turn them into a story. And when I say “everyday” situations, I am talking about an average day at work or at home where nothing truly remarkable happens. O’Nan is a master of doing just that. Here, he captures the last day of work for these people and he does it with such finesse, that it’s hard for me to even pick out any one thing that stood out. It’s really the sum of its parts that makes this book so impressive.

Not a lot happens. You need to know this, but on this last night of work with employees who have just been laid off and a few who have been given a job elsewhere, one can only imagine how horrible a night it will be and then add to that the worst storm of the year? The fact that these people are held captive within these four walls just adds to the tension. Through it all, Manny is the stoic manager. Loyal to the company and dedicated to his employees and customers, he does the best he can do under the circumstances and what he experiences, is what anyone in the restaurant business has experienced before (feuding kitchen help, server drama, booze pilfering bartenders and difficult customers). Oh, and let’s not forget the all-you-can-eat shrimp when supplies are at a all-time low.

I’ll be the first to admit that while reading this book, I could not help but recall my days as a server for Marie Callender’s. OMG, was it horrible! Some people are good at serving. I am not. As a second job it was okay, but had that been my main bread and butter I would have starved. That, I know! O’Nan must have been in the restaurant business at some point in his career because he nailed life at a chain restaurant right down to the drinks between rushes! I’m telling you, it could not have been any more real for me.

That said, this book is super short and wonderful in subtle ways but those of you looking for more of a plot might find this one lacking. I, however, thought it was wonderful even though it did remind me of my horrible days as a server.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.