Tag Archives: Stewart O’Nan

Review: City of Secrets

City of Secrets

City of Secrets
By Stewart O’Nan
Viking, Hardcover, 9780670785964, April 2016, 208pp.

The Short of It:

O’Nan is a master storyteller. He can take any topic and make it good

The Rest of It:

From Goodreads:

A noirish, deeply felt novel of intrigue and identity written in O’Nan’s trademark lucent style, City of Secrets asks how both despair and faith can lead us astray, and what happens when, with the noblest intentions, we join movements beyond our control.

In 1945, Jewish refugees were forced to flee to Palestine. There, they had to rely on the underground for survival. As you can imagine, taking on new identities and trying to blend created quite a challenge. City of Secrets follows a man named Brand, as he tries to navigate the new life he is forced to live.

This is one of those situations where the topic isn’t really my thing but because of O’Nan’s  writing and an effort on my part to step outside of my comfort zone , I decided to read it anyway. That said, O’Nan delivers quite a satisfying read.  As Brand’s character evolves, things become more complex which makes the reading a little tense at times.

All in all, I think this is a very different book for O’Nan. I’ve read many of his books and this one has a different feel than some of his others. He always manages to deliver strong characters and a good story though which is why I continue to go back to him and this one is so short!

With all of the summer reading lists coming out right now, this one is a little different but if the subject matter appeals to you give it a go.

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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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.