Novelist Stewart O'Nan — a Patriots fan, though he hails from Pittsburgh — will read Tuesday evening at the Beachwood branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. He's on tour for his new novel, West of Sunset,
a Hollywood romance starring F. Scott Fitzgerald as the leading man.
West of Sunset
finds Fitzgerald in the withering final act of his life. Gatsby
is a memory. The Great Depression has taken its toll. Faced with towering debt and the emotional turbulence which attends teenage daughters and mentally unstable wives, Fitzgerald escapes to the City of Angels, where he lands a gig at MGM, touching up flimsy scripts for soulless studio execs.
O'Nan's novel, replete with 30s-era celebrity cameos — Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Parker, Marlene Dietrich, Ernest Hemingway himself, to name a few — is foremost a tour of a particular consciousness: the tortured, principled, panoplied mind of one of the 20th century's greatest writers, (after the trappings of greatness have dwindled).
O'Nan told Scene
that he's not what you'd call a Fitzgerald aficionado. He's just interested in characters like Fitzgerald in the 30s, in "what happens to them after the worst has happened."
A gifted prose stylist, O'Nan has captured the cinematic flavor of Hollywood's golden era, and has so thoroughly researched Fitzgerald and his associates that, though the novel is told in the third person, it's as if every moment is mediated through Fitzgerald himself.
"I read his letters — all of them — all of the published stuff about him," O'Nan said, "but also his prose, to see what his characters notice. Because that's also what Fitzgerald notices."
The novel does rely on some familiarity with (and interest in) Fitzgerald, but anyone who's taken high school English should be equipped with the prerequisites.
O'Nan is the author of 14 previous novels, including Last Night at the Lobster
and Emily, Alone.
He told Scene,
amid our ambling conversation,
that Cleveland really seems to be growing on Pittsburgh these days. He's thrilled, among other things, that the Indians and Pirates will play each other this summer.
Go check him out in Beachwood for tonight's 7 p.m. reading