The Locusts Have No King [NOOK Book]

Overview

NO ONE HAS SATIRIZED New York society quite like Dawn Powell, and in this classic novel she turns her sharp eye and stinging wit on the literary world, and "identifies every sort of publishing type with the patience of a pathologist removing organs for inspection." Frederick Olliver, an obscure historian and writer, is having an affair with the restively married, beautiful, and hugely successful playwright, Lyle Gaynor. Powell sets a see-saw in motion when Olliver is swept up by the tasteless publishing tycoon, ...
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The Locusts Have No King

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Overview

NO ONE HAS SATIRIZED New York society quite like Dawn Powell, and in this classic novel she turns her sharp eye and stinging wit on the literary world, and "identifies every sort of publishing type with the patience of a pathologist removing organs for inspection." Frederick Olliver, an obscure historian and writer, is having an affair with the restively married, beautiful, and hugely successful playwright, Lyle Gaynor. Powell sets a see-saw in motion when Olliver is swept up by the tasteless publishing tycoon, Tyson Bricker, and his new book makes its way onto to the bestseller lists just as Lyle's Broadway career is coming apart.

No one has satirized New York society quite like Dawn Powell. In this classic novel, she turns her sharp eye and stinging wit on the publishing industry. "(Powell) identifies every sort of publishing type with the patience of a pathologist removing organs for inspection."--Joseph Ferrandino, San Francisco Review of Books.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the literary circles of Powell's (1897-1965) post-WW II Manhattan, ``art is a cigarette ad,'' money and insincerity go hand-in-hand, a friend is an opportunity to talk about oneself,stet comma for clarity/pk and the word identifying what lovers do for each other is ``punish.'' Frederick Olliver, a poor and introverted medievalist, loves Lyle Gaynor, married socialite and successful playwright. But each mistakes every offer of affection for malice, and eventually takes on the worst aspects of the other's character, reversing socioeconomic standing as well. This long-out-of-print novel, first published in 1948, displays Powell's ear for incriminating dialogue and gift for comic exaggeration, but her pacing is as inexorable as that of a factory, mass-producing ironic situations until the reader is no longer amused. The cynicism fuelling Powell's wit is undercut by the ultimate romanticism of her plot. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Powell's brutal parody of New York intelligentsia was briefly brought back into print by the short-lived Yarrow Press in 1990 (Classic Returns, LJ 2/1/90), marking the first of many of her titles to be reprinted by several publishers. LJ's reviewer praised the book for its "crisp, terse prose" and its "sharply and concisely sketched characters" (LJ 4/15/48). This is one of Powell's finest novels and better than anything currently on the best sellers lists.
From the Publisher

"The 1948 tale of a scholar's roller-coaster affair with a married society type is an anguished love story, a reversal-of-fortune parable, and a blistering satire that rings true today—cynical columnists, silly socialites, sinister nighthawks, all in one gorgeous Deco package."  —Borish Kachka, Bloomberg Businessweek

"Dawn Powell once wrote that although her writing might occasionally concern itself with serious matters, there was never any need to get heavy-handed about it. The Locusts Have no King, first published in 1948, is a stellar example of this quasi-manifesto. Like all Powell's novels, it glides, fast but deep, from the first sentence to the last, written with impeccable finesse and a flawless ear, never grinding its wheels or getting lost in egotistical undergrowth. For all its sweetness and light, Locusts is an intelligent, hard-headed, clear-eyed, examination of art, love, ruthlessness, infidelity, commerce, ambition, betrayal, and destruction. It is, in short, a quintessential New York novel. . . . The whole novel still rings as true now as it must have more than half a century ago." — Kate Christensen, author of The Epicure's Lament and other novels in Barnes & Noble Review.

The Locusts Have No King is one of Powell’s finest novels and better than anything currently on the bestseller lists.” —Library Journal (Classic Returns column, 1995)

The Barnes & Noble Review
There's the kind of novelist who conveys his or her serious intent with weighty sentences and paragraphs as hard to whack through as dense brambles, and then there's another kind, the kind whose prose and story float along like clouds in the breeze, so effortless to read that you hardly realize the novel is about anything at all -- how can something so entertaining be good for you?

Always and ever in this latter camp, Dawn Powell once wrote that although her writing might occasionally concern itself with serious matters, there was never any need to get heavy-handed about it. The Locusts Have No King, first published in 1948, is a stellar example of this quasi-manifesto. Like all Powell's novels, it glides, fast but deep, from the first sentence to the last, written with impeccable finesse and a flawless ear, never grinding its wheels or getting lost in egotistical undergrowth. For all its sweetness and light, Locusts is an intelligent, hard-headed, clear-eyed examination of art, love, ruthlessness, infidelity, commerce, ambition, betrayal, and destruction. It is, in short, a quintessential New York novel.

The story opens on a night in Greenwich Village just after the end of World War II. Our hero, a solitary, obscure medieval-history writer, Frederick Olliver, has just finished the weighty tome he's been working on for seven years. He's making his way through the bars of the West Village in search of his roommate, the womanizing, perpetually soused, debt-ridden Murray, who naturally owes him money. Frederick needs this money to go that night to the dinner party where he knows his beloved will be: the beautiful, redheaded, sensitive, unhappy, but wildly successful Broadway playwright Lyle Gaynor. Frederick dreads this dinner party because he loathes the people who will be there and what they represent, but he has to go. He passionately adores Lyle, can't live without her, and can only see her in certain surroundings, since her husband and playwriting partner, Allan, is wheelchair bound but still very much alive, and essential to her career.

As Frederick goes in and out of one bar after another, we see, through his eyes, a certain subculture of New York, the timeless democratic brotherhood of drinking, a world Powell knew very well and presents with affectionate, funny, gimlet-eyed clarity. Enter Dodo, a sexy, baby-talking, ditsy little social climber from Baltimore, newly arrived in the big city and looking for her ticket Up. Hearing the name of Beckley, the famously rich guy whose house Frederick is headed to, she latches onto him like a remora and tags along to the dinner party. Lyle sees them arrive together and naturally misunderstands. Thus trouble begins, and the novel gets delightfully underway.

The plot is simple: Lyle is up and Frederick's down. Then the Bronx and the Battery switch places, as Frederick's career takes off while Lyle's stalls and plummets. Meanwhile, their love affair suffers classic comic-romance misunderstandings caused, of course, by pride and prejudice. Frederick, thinking Lyle has slighted him, takes up with Dodo; Lyle's heart is broken and she withdraws, etc.; but still, in the course of all these reversals and trials, the love between the two protagonists remains the one pure thing in a corrupt and wicked world. The title, taken from Proverbs, refers to the destructive plague of heedless insects driven only by greed; the deep, true love between Lyle and Frederick is rendered that much more poignant against a backdrop of narcissism, cynicism, and ruthlessness.

The novel is populated by a set of fast-talking, wisecracking minor characters as fun to read about as they must have been to invent, all of them riding the magic wheel that is New York City, the grand machine that turns inexorably up and then down and then up and then down again. In addition to her feather-light but devastatingly satirical bar and nightclub scenes, Powell has particular fun, here as in many of her New York novels, with a certain type of friendship between two vaguely bohemian single career women in their 30s, no longer young but still viable, a friendship predicated entirely on mutual gain. They sheathe their claws and mask their deathly sexual competitiveness with drunken affirmations of solidarity amid self-serving chatter; naturally, the instant one or both women cease to benefit from their alliance, boom, it's over, although it can be reactivated just as easily when someone's fortunes turn again, as they always do, and will.

Many of Powell's satirical grenades are lobbed at people with power who will do anything to keep it or people who want it and will do anything to get it, but she holds plenty of ammo in reserve for pretentious artistic types. One chapter of Locusts involves a lavishly detailed, breathtakingly dead-on description of an arty soirée at a sordid, out-of-the-way loft: an evening of bad poetry, high-minded but totally meaningless pronouncements, absurd performance art, and sheer lack of talent masquerading as preciousness. Powell is as scathing toward those with no ambition as she is toward those with an excess of it: her bohemians live self-consciously unconventional but torpid lives of much drinking and posturing. They excuse their lack of any real artistic output with lines like, "The reason I never went in for painting is I'd want to do it so much better than anyone else," or "My great ambition has always prevented me from doing anything." This chapter's milieu and dialogue could easily be about contemporary New York; in fact, the whole novel still rings as true now as it must have more than half a century ago.

The Locusts Have No King is a tough-minded satire that nevertheless holds out a timeless, modern kind of hope. Just before the Bikini Atoll A-bomb tests are broadcast on the radio, Lyle thinks to herself, "There was never too much that a person could give or endure in love." The final line is an echo of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach": "In a world of destruction one must hold fast to whatever fragments of love are left, for sometimes a mosaic can be more beautiful than an unbroken pattern." This novel is itself designed as a mosaic, a portrait of a fragmented, flawed, but iridescently beautiful city. --Kate Christensen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781581952469
  • Publisher: Steerforth Press
  • Publication date: 11/8/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 303
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Late in life, out of luck and fashion, Henry James predicted a day when all of his neglected novels would kick off their headstones, one after another. As the twentieth century came to an end, the works of Dawn Powell managed the same magnificent task.

When Powell died in 1965, virtually all her books were out of print. Not a single historical survey of American literature mentioned her, even in passing. And so she slept, seemingly destined to be forgotten – or, to put it more exactly, never to be remembered. How things have changed! Numerous Powell’s novels have now been reissued by Steerforth Press along with editions of her plays, diaries and short stories. She has joined the Library of America, admitted to the illustrious company of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Adams, Frederick Douglass, and Edith Wharton.

For the contemporary poet and novelist Lisa Zeidner, writing in The New York Times Book Review, Powell “is wittier than Dorothy Parker, dissects the rich better than F. Scott Fitzgerald, is more plaintive than Willa Cather in her evocation of the heartland, and has a more supple control of satirical voice than Evelyn Waugh.” For his part, Gore Vidal offered a simple reason for Powell’s sudden popularity: “We are catching up to her.”

Tim Page, Powell’ s biographer, from his foreword to My Home Is Far Away: Dawn Powell was born in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, on November 28, 1896, the second of three daughters. Her father was a traveling salesman, and her mother died a few days after Dawn turned seven. After enduring great cruelty at the hands of her stepmother, Dawn ran away at the age of thirteen and eventually arrived at the home of her maternal aunt, who served hot meals to travelers emerging from the train station across the street. Dawn worked her way through college and made it to New York. There she married a young advertising executive and had one child, a boy who suffered from autism, then an unknown condition.

Powell referred to herself as a “permanent visitor” in her adopted Manhattan and brought to her writing a perspective gained from her upbringing in Middle America. She knew many of the great writers of her time, and Diana Trilling famously said it was Dawn “who really says the funny things for which Dorothy Parker gets credit.” Ernest Hemingway called her his “favorite living writer.” She was one of America’ s great novelists, and yet when she died in 1965 she was buried in an unmarked grave in New York’s Potter’s Field.

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Read an Excerpt

NO ONE HAS SATIRIZED New York society quite like Dawn Powell, and in this classic novel she turns her sharp eye and stinging wit on the literary world, and "identifies every sort of publishing type with the patience of a pathologist removing organs for inspection." Frederick Olliver, an obscure historian and writer, is having an affair with the restively married, beautiful, and hugely successful playwright, Lyle Gaynor. Powell sets a see-saw in motion when Olliver is swept up by the tasteless publishing tycoon, Tyson Bricker, and his new book makes its way onto to the bestseller lists just as Lyle's Broadway career is coming apart.
"For decades Dawn Powell was always just on the verge of ceasing to be a cult and becoming a major religion." -- Gore Vidal
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