Friday, April 23, 2010

10.14 The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

The Day of the Locust (1939) by Nathanael West

"The Day of the Locust is generally considered the better work [than Miss Lonelyhearts] (perhaps in part because West had more room in which to work, as Miss Lonelyhearts is only fifty-eight pages long). It is an unrelenting portrait of those on the edges of Hollywood, the scene technicians and failing actresses, the motel rooms, boredom, and heat. Cock fights and prostitution intersperse with funerals, as several men (one of which is named Homer Simpson — I've always wondered if Groening read this book) fight for a chance to sleep with Faye Greener, a vacant 17-year-old whose father is an aging vaudevillian. West depicts the poverty of Hollywood, both economic and spiritual, in grimy detail; again, the final scene culminates with a mass expression of the resentment that permeates the everyday lives of the characters who have come to California for their fortunes: "Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they've been tricked and burn with resentment....The sun is a joke. Oranges can't titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies....They have slaved and saved for nothing."

Jill Owens at Powell's Books

This short novella is packed with superb writing. West captures the sickly overripe world of Hollywood between the wars. There are a lot of parallels with the insipid entertainment universe we live in now.

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