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Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)

by Nathanael West

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  VLarkinAnderson | Sep 22, 2018 |
This short novel from 1933 is certainly not for a romantic. There is such a darkness to it, with violence, sadism, adultery, and rape described with open eyes. The letters that the newspaper advice columnist “Miss Lonelyhearts” receives are heartbreaking, describing awful conditions and hopelessness. The irony is that she is actually a man, who while dispensing platitudes and a fair degree of cheer in print, is a depressed cynic at heart. He’s also deeply flawed - getting drunk, having affairs, and brawling. In this contrast we see Nathanael West’s own disillusionment, and his satire of the human condition, with its suffering and cruelty. There is unflinching honesty here, as well as some grim comedy.

As West puts it in the book’s best passage, “He sees the majority of the letters are profoundly humble pleas for moral and spiritual advice, that they are inarticulate expressions of genuine suffering. He also discovers that his correspondents take him seriously. 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.” Miss Lonelyhearts believes that the example of Christ has the answer, but he struggles with this, because unlike one of West’s personal literary heroes, Dostoevsky, he cannot bring himself to believe in God. A part of how it plays out feels a little forced as a result, but it’s a strong and unique effort, particularly for the time period. ( )
1 vote gbill | May 9, 2018 |
I rebelled and struggled against reading these two stories, and had to force myself to press on nearly all the way through. In the end I found some redemption/value, but very little of the experience was anything I'd call enjoyable.

These stories are populated, by bitter, disenfranchised men who fantasize about rape as an appropriate corrective to "uppity" women. They are certainly not the source of their own ugliness -- all are struggling in a Depression-era world -- but still, the first scene in which a group of men in a bar approvingly discuss a gang rape I wanted to throw this book across the room. This simmering hostility against women is a line that is played with throughout both stories.

Somehow, it gets even more repulsive, but then, Oh! The mob scene at the end of The Day of the Locust! It's just as brutal as the rest of it, but such an effective metaphor for everything that's gone before that it shines. Pretty much the only thing that kept me from a one or two star rating. But would I recommend this book to get to that scene? Doubtful. It would have to be a highly specific set of circumstances. I mean, is it an accurate depiction of a slice of humanity in human history? It certainly feels true. Still not fun to read. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
OK, maybe I'm overreacting. It was a very gloomy story. Told with a generous dose of cynicism. I'm glad I didn't actually get the book.

I'm also glad it wasn't very long. Too depressing to spend much time with it.

I found it online, Project Gutenberg Australia. ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |

"Somehow or other I seem to have slipped in between all the 'schools,' " observed Nathanael West the year before his untimely death in 1940. "My books meet no needs except my own, their circulation is practically private and I'm lucky to be published." Yet today, West is widely recognized as a prophetic writer whose dark and comic vision of a society obsessed with mass-produced fantasies foretold much of what was to come in American life.

Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), which West envisioned as "a novel in the form of a comic strip," tells of an advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist who becomes tragically embroiled in the desperate lives of his readers. The Day of the Locust (1939) is West's great dystopian Hollywood novel based on his experiences at the seedy fringes of the movie industry.

"The work of Nathanael West, savagely, comically, tragically original, has come into its own," said novelist and screenwriter Budd Schulberg. "A new public [has] discovered in the writings of West a brilliant reflection of its own sense of chaos and helplessness in a world running more to madness than to reason."
My take....

70-odd pages of prose which whilst fairly readable were only mildly entertaining.

Miss Lonelyhearts is a male agony columnist dealing with, or rather failing to deal with the problems brought to him by his readers. His cynical boss derides him and his ineffectual responses. Lonelyhearts seeks solace in drink and sex, involving himself more intimately in the problems of his readership as well as trying to seduce his boss’s wife. A temporary recourse to religion fails to provide a solution to anyone’s ills.

A bar fight, an unhappy engagement, sex with a cripple’s wife and a grappling encounter with the cripple concludes with a gun going off. We end.

I’ve read worse and will do again.

West appears to be a fairly political writer and apparently there are greater themes at play here.

According to Wikipedia, we have an Expressionist black comedy with the author sharing a sense of extreme disillusionment with Depression-era American society. (I get that bit.)

It continues…..The novel can be read as a condemnation of alienation and the colonization of social life by commodification, foreshadowing the stance of the Situationists and Guy Debord in particular…..etc, etc, etc.

Well I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

I much preferred West’s A Cool Million (The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin) which I read last year. Review here.

2 from 5

Owned copy, which is a 4-book omnibus edition, also containing The Day of the Locust and The Dream Life of Balso Snell.

A 1933 book and a contribution to Past Offences’ Crimes of the Century February meme. Other offerings are here. (https://pastoffences.wordpress.com/20...)

http://col2910.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02... ( )
  col2910 | Feb 25, 2016 |
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The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?-Do-you-need-advice?-Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.
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Wildly funny, desperately sad, brutal and kind, furious and patient, there was no other like Nathanael West.' - Dorothy Parker 'In dark times, Miss Lonelyhearts shines the brightest light in the blackest places. For this reason West's novel has never felt more alive than today' - The Daily Beast 'A masterpiece...' - Jonathan Lethem. Day after day, 'Miss Lonelyhearts' sits in his office responding to letters from 'Broken-hearted, Sick-of-it-all, and Desperate', dispensing words of hope, inspiration, and other platitudes to get his readers through their tormented days. But it's all getting to be too much for Miss Lonelyhearts. Under the weight of his colleagues' mockery and the endless gloom of his correspondence, Miss Lonelyheart finds himself crippled with cynicism and dysfunction. Set in New York City at the height of the Great Depression, Miss Lonelyhearts stands as one of the most intelligent and hilarious works of the 20th Century. Laced with dark humour, irony, and razor-sharp insight, this novel is as hauntingly relevant today as it was nearly a hundred years ago.… (more)

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