Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust

Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust

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"A primer for Big Bad City disillusionment, unsparing in its portrayal of New York's debilitating entropy."—The Village Voice. With a new introduction by Jonathan Lethem.

First published in 1933, Miss Lonelyhearts remains one of the most shocking works of 20th century American literature, as unnerving as a glob of black bile vomited up at a church social: empty, blasphemous, and horrific. Set in New York during the Depression and probably West's most powerful work, Miss Lonelyhearts concerns a nameless man assigned to produce a newspaper advice column — but as time passes he begins to break under the endless misery of those who write in, begging him for advice. Unable to find answers, and with his shaky Christianity ridiculed to razor-edged shards by his poisonous editor, he tumbles into alcoholism and a madness fueled by his own spiritual emptiness.

During his years in Hollywood West wrote The Day of the Locust, a study of the fragility of illusion. Many critics consider it with F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished masterpiece The Last Tycoon (1941) among the best novels written about Hollywood. Set in Hollywood during the Depression, the narrator, Tod Hackett, comes to California in the hope of a career as a painter for movie backdrops but soon joins the disenchanted second-rate actors, technicians, laborers and other characters living on the fringes of the movie industry. Tod tries to seduce Faye Greener; she is seventeen. Her protector is an old man named Homer Simpson. Tod finds work on a film called prophetically “The Burning of Los Angeles,” and the dark comic tale ends in an apocalyptic mob riot outside a Hollywood premiere, as the system runs out of control.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811218221
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 06/23/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 174,179
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

In 1940, when an automobile accident prematurely claimed Nathanael West's life, he was a relatively obscure writer, the author of only four short novels. West's reputation has grown considerably since then and he is now considered one of the 20th century's major authors. Born in New
York, West worked as the night manager of the Kenmore Hotel on East 23rd
Street in Manhattan, as a contract scriptwriter for Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, and as a screenwriter for RKO Radio Picture.

Jonathan Lethem is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in Brooklyn and Maine.

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Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nate West is now a recognized author whose work is currently being picked apart in college courses everywhere (as some people who have already read at least one of the two stories will attest), but West died virtually unknown in a carwreck that also claimed the life of his wife as they were rushing home to mourn the death of friend F. Scott Fitzgerald. His body of work, while small, shows him as one of the greatest American authors we've ever come across and these two books are his proudest achievements. So much attention has been given to Locust over the years, and while I don't mean to write off discussion on that, I'd rather give mention to Miss Lonelyhearts, a personal favorite. Miss Lonelyhearts is actually a male newspaper columnist, a la Dear Abbey, whose work is to comfort and console readers whose very existence is so sad and tragic that often a flat, out of the can response is all Lonely can give them. We see Lonelyhearts suffer with personal frustration and professional disinterest as he deals with a cast of characters that are as varied as his readers, and themes of sex and violence, art and culture, religion and politics are offered for speculation but never outwardly dissected. The prose, beautifully written, is a narrative of Lonely's day to day life, interjected with letters from his readers. The ability at how West manages to give each reader in the story such individual context and identity makes you wonder if the letters themselves couldn't be real and authentic. It should also be noted that West was a surrealist (or at least intrigued with the subject) and the displays of surrealism in both stories are some of the best you can find in American literature for that period, or, arguably, so far. Dark and moody, hardboiled. Of particular interest to gay readers for an early to mid 20th century representation of homosexual characters and themes (gender role play anyone?) during a conservative time.
MeditationesMartini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hard-boiled cynicism with an underwallop of desperate, desperate longing and an opening that packs a godawful punch. This book surprised me with how modern (not Modern, although I really like some of West's expressionistic flights of language) it was--characters turn to empty sex and boozing and religious raving and even Clockwork Orange-esque tormenting of their fellow man so easily, so routinely that it shocks; you think of that as belonging to a later era and the Thirties as being perhaps cruel and amoral but at least ambitious, looking out for number one, and not this brutalist malice and nihilism. But I guess if anyone should be ahead of his time, should see which way the winds are blowing, it should be an advice columnist like the titular Miss. For all that it was affecting to see Miss Lonelyhearts crack up, and you wanted F. Scott Fitzgerald to wipe the drool off his chin, take Miss L firmly in hand and say "It's going to be all right. Now get us a couple of gins, man", the really despairing moments here were the letters, and I can't decide if their sameness--the run-on sentences, the rudimentary punctuation, etc.--is a flaw of West's craft or simply a black nod to the banality of suffering.
abirdman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Two works of fiction which depict West's nightmare vision of Los Angeles pre-1940, which has, oddly, almost completely come true but is no longer considered a nightmare-- it's just LA.
Freder1ck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Miss Lonelyhearts describes an acute personal crisis in the life of a person who has at one time encountered Jesus Christ (similar to O'Connor's Wise Blood, but bleaker). It brings to mind the following quote:"If Christ does not make me present with the whole of my "I," what does Christ mean? It is just a name, and it is unable to draw my "I." My friends, whether we like it or not, in time, He will have no more interest for us. He will no longer be the dearest thing we have. So the most urgent thing is how can Christ not remain just a name, but become more and more real, in such a way as to make the "I" present in reality." ~Julian Carron
araridan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Of these two novellas, Miss Lonelyhearts was by far my favorite. "Miss Lonelyhearts" is actually a male employee of a New York newspaper who write the advice column much in the vein of Ann Landers. He initially treats his job as a huge joke, but day after day of letters dealing with horribly depressing issues, he kinda cracks and becomes extremely disillusioned with humanity. The bulk of the story is Miss Lonelyhearts trying to free himself from depression through art, alcohol, sex, and finally religion. That's all I'll say...other than the ending is a bit like if Flannery O'Connor set one of her stories in New York city rather than the South...highly recommended short read. Day of the Locust is fine. It gets mentioned a lot for being a book that epitomizes Hollywood and all of the absurdity of Southern California during the Golden Age of Films. I enjoyed it, but the story does come off a bit like a convoluted soap opera at times, which I guess is fitting.
slickdpdx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The protagonist of this short novel (or long story) is a young man playing the part of Miss Lonelyhearts for the agony column of a NYC-based newspaper during the great depression. He is in the midst of an existential crisis that is aggravated by the banal but real pain expressed in the letters of the people he presumes to assist, by the circumstances of the time, and by his youth (which involves a level of naiveté and religiosity.) Despite his relative physical and material advantages, he is foundering spiritually.Living is like swimming ¿ if you think too much about how deep the water is; or what creatures the water may conceal; or, even, why should the water continue to hold you up ¿ you are likely getting into big trouble. Miss L., already foundering, senses his responses are meaningless, or worse, and is tempted to intervene in the lives of the losers writing in to his column. Unfortunately, the intense need and despair of some people is like a vortex and it can drag you in. Why don¿t we stop the next time we see a homeless guy; skip work, and take the guy home for a hot shower, clean clothes, a meal and a place to sleep? Even if you work or volunteer at a shelter, you don¿t do that. There is a line. If you cross it, you are swimming in deep water. Miss L. attempts to save a drowning man and is, in turn, drowned himself.West's language is direct, but literary. The hybrid of West¿s hard-boiled style and a tale that is not hard-boiled (at least not in the usual sense) really works. The structure of the novel also works well; a series of vignettes with acerbic titles like ¿Miss Lonelyhearts and the Dead Pan¿ that are reminiscent of the titles in a children¿s story book. Finally, this early existential novel is unique in that it is so thoroughly American in its sensibility, settings and pre-occupations. Miss Lonelyhearts is one of the best short novels I've ever encountered.
stubbyfingers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust were both written in the 1930's. I chose to read this book because Miss Lonelyhearts played a role in a novel I read last year, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, which was written in 1962.Miss Lonelyhearts is a male journalist who writes an advice column under the pseudonym. He is never referred to by any other name. He is miserable and depressed from having to read all the letters that his fans write to him asking for help. I can't think of any redeeming qualities to mention about this story besides the fact that it is short. Yes, now I understand why it was used in The Man in the High Castle.I found The Day of the Locust to be a much more interesting story. It's the story of a man who moves to Hollywood to be a set designer but isn't having as easy a time of it as he had hoped. He falls in with other people who have also come to Hollywood chasing dreams and wishes and are having as hard a time of it as he is, if not harder. This story deals with stereotypes and how human nature reacts upon discovery that reality does not live up to expectations.
theaelizabet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This might not have been the best book (at 59 pages, a novella) with which to begin the New Year. It¿s a bleak, bleak, tale. From the story, this tidy (and self-serving) summary provided by the titular character:¿A man is hired to give advice to the readers of a newspaper. The job is a circulation stunt and the whole staff considers it a joke¿ He too considers the job a joke, but after several months at it, the joke begins to escape him. He sees that the majority of the letters are profoundly humble pleas for moral and spiritual advice, that they are inarticulate expressions of genuine suffering¿ For the first time in his life, he is forced to examine the values by which he lives. This examination shows him that he is the victim of the joke and not its perpetrator.¿But there¿s nothing tidy about this story. The advice columnist, Miss Lonelyhearts (he¿s never named), exists, barely, in a world where gang rapes are casually discussed, and people cheat, beat and defile. Hollow religious symbolism flits around the edges and only mockingly offers the possibility of redemption, and the clichéd love-of-a-good woman is of no helpAnd yet there are over-the-top moments where West seems to be teasing readers, testing us, as if to say, ¿Just how ridiculous are you going to let things get before you wake up?¿ My favorite of these comes during a pastoral jaunt taken by Miss Lonelyhearts and the ¿good woman.¿ After being told by a local gas station attendant that it¿s ¿the yids,¿ not the hunters, who are driving out the area deer, Miss Lonelyhearts goes for a walk in the woods:¿Although spring was well advanced, in the deep shade there was nothing but death¿rotten leaves, gray and white fungi, and over everything a funereal hush.¿So, things are bad, friends. Really, really bad.Of course times were bad in 1933, when this was published, but West is taking on much more here than the just the Depression era. Six years later, he will publish The Day of the Locust, where he will further hone his apocalyptic vision. The next year he will die in a car crash. Happy New Year.flag abuse
mrtall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although The Day of the Locust is the longer and more famous of the two works this volume comprises, I preferred Miss Lonelyhearts. Miss Lonelyhearts is an odd and haunting story: the eponymous protatgonist is actually a young man who's fallen into the job of writing an agony aunt column for a newspaper. We see him displayed in a number of set pieces, reacting to the ubiquity of evil and misery in the world. He's also Christ-haunted, in a very Flannery O'Connor-esque way, with some similarly bizarre behavioral results. This novella is sharply-written and memorably disturbing.The Day of Locust is one of the foundational Hollywood novels, featuring a young studio artist's experiences as he sketches, both literally and figuratively, the brutal outlines of the real characters that inhabit Lala Land. Some of these lost souls are unforgettable, and as the story reaches a feverish climax, we are left wondering if there's any hope at all for the great mass of us. Recommended, for the power of West's writing, and for these works' hard-edged portrayal of the 1930s, and of the unchanging depths of human nature itself.
jburlinson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
5 stars for Miss Lonelyhearts + 3.5 starts for Day of the Locust equal 8.5 stars: divided by 2, which comes to 4.25 stars; round down to the nearest whole number (if the number is even) and you get 4 stars. Add 0.5 stars for being the basis of a 4 star movie "Miss Lonelyhearts" and subtract 1 star for being the basis of a 2 star movie "The Day of the Locust" and you get 3.5 stars. Round up to the nearest even whole number and again you get 4 stars.
amydross on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Let me tell you, this book is... well, at the risk of sounding un-intellectual, it\'s weird. And it\'s not really about writing an advice column so much as it\'s about Christ. No, I don\'t mean any kind of symbolic Christ-like figure, like at the end of the Matrix, or in the Chronicles of Narnia. I mean that the word Christ is mentioned an average of five times on every page. And never God, or Jesus, or the Lord, or even Jesus Christ. Just Christ.And the weirdest thing is, it\'s not a very religious novel, at least, not what I would consider one. You could pretty much replace the word Christ with the phrase \"chipped beef\" and the book would have exactly the same spiritual import. It\'s like this psychotic place holder... And honestly, I couldn\'t even tell if the book was satirizing religion as a mindless panacea, or embracing it. Maybe I\'m just slow, but go ahead and read it, see if you don\'t agree with me.Anyway, aside from the Christ stuff, the story was really quite depressing. Well, actually, the story was basically incomprehensible, but the exerpts of (presumably fictional) advice letters were grueling. The miserable grammar was spot on, but the questions were miles beyond anything I\'ve ever gotten. People wrote to him about their poverty and tuberculosis and the lame husband they never loved. People write to me (or actually, don\'t) about the very mildest of boyfriend troubles. I can\'t explain what precisely about this bothers me, but adding all these factors up has made the future of dear donut seem very grim indeed.
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