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A Cool Million by Nathanael West

A Cool Million (1934)

by Nathanael West

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785154,388 (3.54)5



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A modern day version of Voltaire's classic "Candide." Easy reading, concise and very humorous- social commentary at its most entertaining. ( )
  la2bkk | Jun 22, 2017 |

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
My take......

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.

http://col2910.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06... ( )
  col2910 | Jun 20, 2015 |
"Like many another 'poet,' he balmed his literary failure on the American public instead of his own lack of talent, and his desire for revolution was really a desire for revenge. Furthermore, having lost faith in himself, he thought it was his duty to undermine the nation's faith in itself." ( )
  lawrenh | May 14, 2014 |
While I've read the other novellas of Nathaniel West, this one was an experience. Though West pre-dated him by thirty years, this one feels for all the world like something from Kurt Vonnegut's pen. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Jul 6, 2013 |
1934. Lemuel Pitkin goes forth to New York City to make his fortune with the optimistic faith in the American dream of a Horatio Alger hero. He is cheated and beaten and robbed and jailed and gradually dismembered and then sold back to the public after his death as the martyr of a politcal party. Nathanael West does not believe in the American dream. Troubling Jewish stereotypes, despite West's being Jewish himself, and what seems to be the usual racism of the time period. This is supposed to be a cultural critique, but it's hard to say where the critique leaves off and the author's actual views creep in. ( )
  kylekatz | Apr 30, 2013 |
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"John D. Rockefeller would give a cool million to have a stomach like yours."



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The home of Mrs. Sarah Pitkin, a widow well on in years, was situated on
an eminence overlooking the Rat River, near the town of Ottsville in the
state of Vermont. It was a humble dwelling much the worse for wear, yet
exceedingly dear to her and her only child, Lemuel.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374530270, Paperback)

Nathanael West was only thirty-seven when he died in 1940, but his depictions of the sometimes comic, sometimes horrifying aspects of the American scene rival those of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. A Cool Million, written in 1934, is a satiric Horatio Alger story set in the midst of the Depression. The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931) was described by one critic as "a fantasy about some rather scatological adventures of the hero in the innards of the Trojan horse."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:13 -0400)

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