As Stein’s people rummage through their faulty memories, they talk the way human beings actually talk — heavy on score-settling, gossip and hearsay. It’s at times almost unbelievable what they are willing to say ... Perhaps the most surprising thing that emerges from this riveting book is a glimpse of what seems like deep truth.
Stein's method is to construct a narrative entirely from oral interviews, an approach that lends the book a kind of Rashomon quality: The subjects are viewed from various angles by those who either knew them intimately or are well equipped to comment on their lives. It's like being at an insider's cocktail party where the most delicious gossip about the rich and powerful is being dished by smart people, such as Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Arthur Miller and Dennis Hopper. The result is a mesmerizing book.
Despite its provenance, West of Eden is strangely unfocused, especially when compared with Ms. Stein’s indelible Edie ... [it] includes only a terse set of biographical notes, which is an extreme annoyance; it needed the full biographies, genealogical charts and abundant illustrations that were so necessary to Edie.”