"Somehow or other I seem to have slipped in between all the 'schools,' " observed Nathanael West the year before his untimely death in 1940. "My books meet no needs except my own, their circulation is practically private and I'm lucky to be published." Yet today, West is widely recognized as a prophetic writer whose dark and comic vision of a society obsessed with mass-produced fantasies foretold much of what was to come in American life.
Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), which West envisioned as "a novel in the form of a comic strip," tells of an advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist who becomes tragically embroiled in the desperate lives of his readers. The Day of the Locust (1939) is West's great dystopian Hollywood novel based on his experiences at the seedy fringes of the movie industry.
"The work of Nathanael West, savagely, comically, tragically original, has come into its own," said novelist and screenwriter Budd Schulberg. "A new public [has] discovered in the writings of West a brilliant reflection of its own sense of chaos and helplessness in a world running more to madness than to reason."
70-odd pages of prose which whilst fairly readable were only mildly entertaining.
Miss Lonelyhearts is a male agony columnist dealing with, or rather failing to deal with the problems brought to him by his readers. His cynical boss derides him and his ineffectual responses. Lonelyhearts seeks solace in drink and sex, involving himself more intimately in the problems of his readership as well as trying to seduce his boss’s wife. A temporary recourse to religion fails to provide a solution to anyone’s ills.
A bar fight, an unhappy engagement, sex with a cripple’s wife and a grappling encounter with the cripple concludes with a gun going off. We end.
West appears to be a fairly political writer and apparently there are greater themes at play here.
According to Wikipedia, we have an Expressionist black comedy with the author sharing a sense of extreme disillusionment with Depression-era American society. (I get that bit.)
It continues…..The novel can be read as a condemnation of alienation and the colonization of social life by commodification, foreshadowing the stance of the Situationists and Guy Debord in particular…..etc, etc, etc.
Well I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
I much preferred West’s A Cool Million (The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin) which I read last year. Review here.
2 from 5
Owned copy, which is a 4-book omnibus edition, also containing The Day of the Locust and The Dream Life of Balso Snell.
A 1933 book and a contribution to Past Offences’ Crimes of the Century February meme. Other offerings are here.