Category Archives: Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts / The Day of the Locust– Nathanael West

Locust

 

If I were asked to submit a syllabus for a semester of Major American Fiction from 1900-WWII course, I would fearlessly have Nathanael West’s name beside the five or six usual suspects.

A life cut way too short in an auto accident the day after his friend Scott Fitzgerald died from a heart attack. His four novels were only appreciated really (as usual) posthumously.

Flannery O’Connor said that for her the two most important American 20th Century novels were As I Lay Dying and Miss Lonelyhearts…

Depending which side of the opinion fence you come down on regarding the illustrious Harold Bloom, he declares West canon worthy, but I differ in his reading ofMiss Lonelyhearts.

I had repeatedly seen his name come up as a marginalized writer mentioned by other writers, and of those who encountered him raved about. His themes and treatment probably were as shocking in there day as Marlyn Manson was in his…
I only decided to reach for the New Directions publication of Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust at the last minute. It was fateful that I almost put off reading this guy (again) again.

The bleak tragi-comedy farce of Miss Lonelyhearts is Dostoevsky with a wit and a narrative voice as subtle as a chainsaw…
Remove about four period slang terms (speakeasy for ex), and it could have been written tomorrow. Dense, but not demanding, its 56 pages begs an immediate re-read. Its a D-word novel: Disillusionment, depression, Drinking and Despair. A hero that slowly acquires a Christ-complex and has Mephistopheles for a boss.

The Day of the Locustis the longer work, and stands more as a traditional narrative, less farcical, but similar themes, but throw in a Hollywood setting perfect for West’s exploration of displaced people with misplaced dreams. West weaves the story of two rivals Tod Hacketand Homer Simpson, as they vie for the affection of the Hollywood dream queen wannabee, Fay Greener, along with an an entourage of grotesques (there is a dwarf, a cowboy, a clown, a Mexican and cock fighting) into a slow build up to its troubling and unexpected climax. The writing is just superb.
I chuckled to  discover that this is the birthplace of the Cartoon character for the Simpson’s, Homer Simpson: Groening (simpsons creator) has stated in several interviews that Homer is the namesake of a character in the 1939  novel The Day of the Locust.

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