Monday, January 09, 2012

Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust (by Nathanael West)

I just realized I never did my year-end book post! I'll have to put that up soon. (It was not a busy reading year, I'll say that much.) In the meantime, The Day of the Locust is on the Time 100 list, and it came in a volume with two short novellas, that one and Miss Lonelyhearts.

Lonelyhearts is a series of bleak vignettes about a man who answers an advice column in the paper and basically becomes a sponge for all the world's despair. It's pretty poetic. But Locust is the one I really want to talk about (especially since it's the Time 100 pick.)

Locust is about people on the fringes of the movie industry in Hollywood, set during the Great Depression. It reminded me of Breakfast at Tiffany's, only it's set in L.A. instead of New York, and the "Fred" of the story isn't a vanilla narrator who is most probably gay, but instead is a screenwriter named Tod who likes to fantasize about raping Holly Golightly. Plus, it's super satirical. So maybe not that similar at all?

Not only is it satire, it's specific-to-Los-Angeles satire. Each one of the characters is a type (including the pathetic everyman "Homer Simpson"--the name might not be a coincidence). For example, it's hard not to read the clash between a cowboy and a Mexican guy over the sexual favors of the desirable aspiring starlet Faye as anything but a metaphor for the settling of California. (Plus, Faye, who represents the specifically Californian American dream, descends into prostitution at one point. Come on, that is so totally the film industry!) West reportedly admired Hemingway--it's very The Sun Also Rises in terms of the sexual metaphor. But it ends with a full-on riot and descent into madness at, of course, a film premiere.

If you like satire, or the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, where the line between actress and prostitute is wafer-thin and where dreams go to die--this is the novella for you!

"Throwing away his cigarette, he went through the swinging doors of the saloon. There was no back to the building and he found himself in a Paris street. He followed it to its end, coming out in a Romanesque courtyard... on a lawn of fiber, a group of men and women in riding costume were picnicking. They were eating cardboard food in front of a cellophane waterfall."

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2 Comments:

Blogger Beth said...

Man, I've had this one on my to-read list for decades. You might have convinced me.

2:02 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Even if you hate it, it's super short!

2:17 PM  

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