Tag Archives: Hollywood

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: Life Itself

Life Itself

Life Itself 
By Roger Ebert
(Grand Central Publishing, Paperback, 9780446584968, September 2012, 448pp.)

The Short of It:

Written with humor and heart.

The Rest of It:

Everyone is familiar with Roger Ebert, right? His characteristic “thumbs-up” rating for movies he enjoyed, his battle with cancer that destroyed his face and took his voice forever, his antagonistic but often funny interactions with Gene Siskel? I grew up watching him. I spent hours in theaters watching the movies he recommended and he was probably one of the main reasons I entered college as a film major. But what I didn’t know and really didn’t begin to know, was the man behind the famous rating system. I didn’t really get to know him until his battle with cancer and I didn’t read this book until he passed away this past April. What a life.

Life Itself is a treat for anyone who enjoys small town life and nostalgia in general. Ebert’s small town of Urbana, Illinois provided a safe, comforting backdrop for his childhood. His trips to the local movie theater are written about with the care and gentle handling of a man in love with his childhood. He was always a wonderful writer, but the sense of place he conveys in this memoir will bring tears to your eyes for what once was. I loved these glimpses into Ebert’s life. His funny perspective, his awkwardness and his ability to break it all down into pleasant digestible bits.

There are some things I learned that I was not aware of before reading his book. I had no idea that he was a recovering alcoholic. The section on him joining Alcoholics Anonymous was told with such honestly, that I wanted to just reach through the pages and offer him a gentle, guiding hand. I also didn’t know that Gene Siskel, the critic that was forever (in my mind) arguing with Ebert over the movies they reviewed, was actually a very close friend and that their success on TV came quite accidentally. Additionally, I had no idea that Ebert was such a reader! Lots of book love in this one.

What I did expect and did not get was more insight into his battle with cancer. This part of his life is told in a very matter-of-fact way and details are kept to a minimum. He doesn’t dwell on what he lost. In fact, I’m not sure I expected him to be as optimistic as he was in the book, but in the end, I am glad that the cancer did not rule his life even though on the outside looking in, it certainly seemed that way.

I don’t read many memoirs but this book was a real treat. There’s quite a bit of humor and the stories from his youth are told with a lot of heart. I found myself yearning for simpler times and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the man is missed. I never look at movies quite the same way. His sense of wonder, his ability to appreciate the small, creative nuances that directors injected into their films and his knack for saying exactly what he means is what made him a favorite in my eye.

Source: Borrowed
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