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The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

The Day of the Locust (1939)

by Nathanael West

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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A very harsh appraisal and somewhat comic novel about early Hollywood and 1930s Los Angeles. This is another important book which documents the history of Los Angeles by someone who was actually working in the industry at the time.
This edition has a good bibliography and Introduction by Alfred Kazin.
This book has probably fallen out of favor due to displays of some racial prejudice and misogyny on the part of the characters. West has technical expertise and this work in The Day of the Locust seems to be an overcompensation to his other work he was doing as a studio screenwriter.
Tod Hackett is the main character who moves to Los Angeles to work as a set painter. Tod is working on a personal painting on the side called, "The Burning of Los Angeles" which features people in the novel and will be his calling card to greater critical acclaim to his friends back on the east coast.
The most memorable character is pathetic man named Homer Simpson who came from Des Moines, Iowa to live out his life away from the cold. He is described as a servile, "clumsy dog, who is always anticipating a blow." Matt Groening said that he got the name for Bart's father from this book and that the surname Simpson connotes a simpleton.
This book, unfortunately gives one of the first instances of a writer describing Los Angeles as a juxtaposition of bizarre scenes as found on a movie back-lot. For West, this external superficiality was what became internalized by people working in that environment over time. Actual personalities were given up for roles formerly played on past movie or stage projects. This was done willingly as life on the fringes of movie making was so grindingly merciless that it was easier to strike a pose than having real emotions of constant sadness and pain.
Now it is almost guaranteed that Los Angeles be described, even casually, as surreal whenever any coincidence of near opposites takes place. It's a tired overused description of Los Angeles which has moved from pointing to Hollywood to describing all of the Los Angeles Southland. This is now promoted by television news-people.
The Burning of Los Angeles has also become a motif in the area's literature about the ecological and political fragility of the place.
Only Hollywood, Venice, Santa Monica and Glendale are mentioned in this novel. I'm happy to have finally found the time to read this book. ( )
  sacredheart25 | Apr 24, 2017 |

If I were to pick a novel that is the Great American Novel, I think I would pick The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West. Why? West's short novel speaks to what every single American has to deal with -- the falsehood of Hollywood, the ultimate con, the complete fake, the billion dollar illusion, shoved in everybody's face, like it or not.

As Nathaniel West captured so brilliantly, once anything or anyone is in Hollywood, there is no escape from being converted into artificiality - even a wooden chest of drawers is painted to look like unfinished wood.

Adults beating the spontaneity out of children so their kid can be the next Shirley Temple. How twisted. Adults dressing, speaking, moving, expressing themselves in imitation of what they see on the screen. How sick. How appalling. How American.

How Nathaniel West captured it all perfectly in this Great American Novel: The Day of the Locust.

I love this photo capturing how the five-pointed stars in the Hollywood sidewalk mirror the five-pointed stars in the American flag. ( )
1 vote GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Have you ever heard of Nathanael West? His novel "The Day of the Locust" is number 73 on Modern Library’s list of the best 100 novels of all time. Otherwise, I might never have heard of him either. And ironically- at one time in his life- he lived a mere 15 minutes from my home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

West had the potential to become a great classic author. Unfortunately, he died in a car crash in 1940 at the age of 37 after having published just a few short novels. "The Day of the Locust" is a novella depicting life in Hollywood in the 1930s. West moved to Hollywood to be a screenwriter… and although some of the scenes seem quite absurd, he did write based on his own personal observations. This is not the story of celebrities enjoying the glitz and glamour of success. It is a novel of bleak realism.

The protagonist of "The Day of the Locust" is Tod Hackett- an artist who designs and paints stage settings. He pessimistically concludes that most people came to California to die. If they came to Hollywood thinking they would make a living in show business, they soon found life to be an unending struggle. If they did achieve success, living in the fast lane could prove to be fatal… literally. And if they came to Hollywood for any other reason, they soon found their lives entwined with wanna-be actresses, homeless moochers, part-time bit-part actors who spent most of their time loitering on the street looking for a little action to fill their boring days. In Hollywood it was easy to lose oneself in the superficial facade of make-believe and die a slow spiritual and emotional death.

The character development in "The Day of the Locust" is amazing. There is an old retired vaudeville actor- Harry Greener- whose comedy routines reminded me of the Marx Brothers. Harry is trying to make a living selling silver polish door-to-door. He incorporates some of his inane vaudeville schtick into his sales pitch. His daughter Faye is one of Hollywood’s many would-be actresses- both beautiful and determined- but with mediocre talent, so it is an uphill battle and she has to prostitute herself to make ends meet. On the darker side, there is a Mexican who makes his money on taking bets for cock fights. He’s got a crate full of fighting fowl and doesn’t mind setting up in anyones garage for a good night of entertainment.

During the short period of time this novella takes place, Tod becomes infatuated with Faye along with several other lecherous followers. The odd thing about "The Day of the Locust" is after a series of events that capture the imagination and peak the readers curiosity, there is an absurd dramatic scene of chaos and an abrupt ending. Like a still life photo- in that one final moment- time is suspended. The story ended before I was ready to stop reading. The reader is left to draw their own conclusions which has a haunting effect.

This 2013 edition book cover is deceptive. It leads one to believe James Cagney starred in the movie. "The Day of the Locust" was made into a movie in 1975 starring William Atherton and Karen Black. However, I did visualized it more as being a black and white film of the 1930s… a sensational hit that might have actually starred Cagney and Greta Garbo or Joan Blondell. ( )
1 vote LadyLo | May 19, 2016 |
The three stars are all for The Day of the Locust, which is good if obvious. The Dream Life of Balso Snell is poor. ( )
  JohnPhelan | Jun 17, 2015 |
Tod Hackett works as an artist for a Hollywood movie studio, but his mind and energy are always on Faye Greener, a teenage extra. To be in love with Faye is torture, as she has plenty of men after her and a father who was a stage comic but is now just annoying. The main problem with Faye is that she cares for no one, only her dreams of becoming a star.
Showing the hazards of celebrity with its crushed hopes and the fans who will form a mob to get near fame, this is a brilliantly written story, almost a noir with its femme fatale who leaves misery behind her. This would have been a 5 star for me if it weren't for a very graphic cockfight scene. ( )
2 vote mstrust | Mar 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
The year 1939, when Europe was going up in flames and America clung to the hope that it need not become part of a world at war, turned out to be a miracle moment for Los Angeles fiction, seeing the publication of "The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler, John Fante's "Ask The Dust," and "The Day of the Locust" by Nathanael West (the latter just reissued in a new edition, along with "Miss Lonelyhearts," by New Directions, $11.95), three books that distilled distinctly and in very different ways the city that was being written about, and have continued to dictate how Los Angeles is perceived today.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
West, Nathanaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boos, CeesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fruttero, CarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Around quitting time, Tod Hackett heard a great din on the road outside his office.
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"The Day of the Locust" is the celebrated 1939 novel about the Great Depression, set in Hollywood, California, its over-arching themes dealing with the alienation and desperation of a broad group of odd individuals who exist at the fringes of the Hollywood movie industry. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Day of the Locust #73 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included the novel in its list of 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.

Novel by Nathanael West about the savagery lurking beneath the Hollywood dream. Published in 1939, it is one of the most striking examples of the "Hollywood novel" in American fiction. Tod Hackett, a set designer, becomes involved in the lives of several individuals who have been warped by their proximity to the artificial world of Hollywood. Hackett's completion of his painting "The Burning of Los Angeles" coincides with the explosion of the other characters' unfulfilled dreams in a conflagration of riot and murder. --The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
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Following the tale of Tod Hackett - a brilliant young artist who is brought to an LA studio as a set designer - 'The Day of the Locust' is an exposure of the sordid reality beneath the surface of Hollywood.

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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