Friday Reads: West of Sunset

What do you call it when one book leads you to another which leads you to another?

Earlier this year I read A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir of his early days in Paris when he was a young and starving writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how he met up with so many names of the day, such as Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Maddox Ford, so I happily put it on the Staff Picks cart, where it is constantly checked out.

That book led me to a fun new novel called The Hemingway Thief by Shaun Harris in which the author imagines that Hemingway secretly orchestrated the famous theft of his briefcase full of all of his writings that he bemoaned in A Moveable Feast.  Written as a hard-boiled who-done-it, The Hemingway Thief is a flight of fancy that entertains while getting you to ponder the actual mystery of that briefcase and what would have happened had it been found.  Would Hemingway be Hemingway?  I’ll be putting this on the Staff Picks cart after it comes off the new books shelf.

Having enjoyed Harris’ creative caper (Aside:  I usually read nonfiction) when I saw another novel based on the real life of a classic writer, I was eager to give it a try.  And wouldn’t you know it … Hemingway makes several short appearances.   West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan explores the final three years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life when he was destitute and ill and his wife, suffering from a mental illness, was in a sanatorium.   He tries to salvage his dying career and hang on to his family, while falling in love with a beautiful younger woman and getting swept away by depressive, alcohol-soaked jags.  Somehow, through nuanced writing we can empathize with his devotion to all of the women in his life: his wife Zelda, his teenage daughter Scottie and his mistress, Sheilah in this well-researched novel.  I am also putting this one on the staff picks shelf and I suspect it will be checked out this afternoon.

So, is reading this succession of books the literary version of Internet surfing or more like following clues in a scavenger hunt?  I feel I’m not finished with either Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald, but my latest book could lead me in a new direction altogether with mentions of Humphrey Bogart and its being set in Tinsel town in the 1930s.  Now that was a ripe time and place.  Maybe the novel Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner will be next.  I understand it features a hat from the set of Gone with the Wind for which Fitzgerald was hired to write briefly.  Well, whatever it is, it will have to wait until I am finished with my Narrative Nonfiction Book Club book.  I can’t wander away from nonfiction for too long.

Faith Lee

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