In this book, Nathanael West, a great American satirist, nearly laughs the Horatio Alger myth to death. Like many an Alger, Lemuel Pitkin leaves his home on the farm to seek his fortune in the Big City. By the time he is through, he has been robbed, bilked, thrown in jail, has lost his teeth, his eye, a leg, his scalp, and has witnessed a remarkable number of rapes and political riots. Others in the cast: an ex-president of the United States (just released from jail); Lem's childhood sweetheart (now working in a Mott Street bordello); an oil-rich Indian; a Western desperado; and assorted agents and thugs of the Communists, Fascists and International Bankers. Through the story of Lemuel Pitkin, the four-square, All-American hero, and his sad fate at the hands of rabble-rousers and charlatans, West etched a classic parable of America in the chaotic Thirties.
A short 1934 book for Rich Westwood’s Past Offences monthly meme – see here for other contributions.
Hmm…… an ok read, no better no worse.
You sense very early on, probably on reading the alternate title that things aren’t going to go well for Lemuel Pitkin here. And they don’t.
Short chapters which each outline a short scene in his journey to make his fortune in post-depression America. One chapter sees a temporary rise in his fortunes, the return of some stolen property, or the accumulation of a few dollars, the next a rapid return to a situation even bleaker than before – a beating at the hands of the police, followed by rapid imprisonment or losing an eye.
And on it goes….
Readable, enjoyable enough. I liked Lemuel but kind of felt there wasn’t an awful lot of point in rooting for him. Terrible deeds befall him and the girl of his dreams, but his unshakeable optimism endures.
Looking at a few reviews of this over on Goodreads, I’m led to believe West was pouring scorn on the typical American Dream and the belief that anyone could make it rich in the US, the only thing stopping them was themselves. Hard to disagree with that notion.
3 from 5
Nathanael West wrote a handful of novels in the 30’s and also worked as a screenwriter, before his death in 1940.
I have a collected set of his short novels, but couldn’t find it, so ended up buying this e-version on Amazon. I’ll find it one day soon and will hopefully get to his other stuff at some point in the future.