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The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
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The Day of the Locust (1939)

by Nathanael West

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» See also 54 mentions

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My vote for the Great American Novel - 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. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Nathanael West’s satire of 1930’s Hollywood, done mainly through its wannabes and outcasts, is pointed and ahead of his time. Behind the glittering image of Tinseltown, he shows us squalor, broken dreams, and a world where everything seems as phony as the facades of a set design. There are prostitutes, stage moms, and con men. The pretentiousness of those who have made it, with their ostentatious houses, are compared with the delusions of grandeur of those who haven’t, with their banal ideas for screenplays. He gives us various lifestyles that made me smile, since I didn’t realize how far back in time these stereotypical Hollywood images went, with vegetarians and those on a raw food diet, as well as those who attend alternative churches, such as the ‘Church of Christ, Physical’, “where holiness was attained through the constant use of chest-weights and spring grips”. He also doesn’t shy away from showing us cruelty in the form of cockfighting, or a dangerous mob. Even the protagonist who is navigating through this world has violent rape fantasies. West would die the following year at 37 in a car crash which is a shame, as this novel demonstrates his talent at making dark observations about the human condition, as well as an improved discipline and maturity as a writer.

Just this quote, on people retiring in California:
“Once there, they discover that sunshine isn’t enough. They get tired of oranges, even of avocado pears and passion fruit. Nothing happens. They don’t know what to do with their time. They haven’t the mental equipment for leisure, the money nor the physical equipment for pleasure. Did they slave so long just to go to an Iowa picnic? What else is there? They watch the waves come in at Venice. There wasn’t any ocean where most of them came from, but after you’ve seen one wave, you’ve seen them all. The same is true of the airplanes at Glendale. If only a plane would crash once in a while so that they could watch the passengers being consumed in a ‘holocaust of flame’, as the newspapers put it. But the planes never crash.
Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realise that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, war. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies.” ( )
4 vote gbill | May 21, 2018 |
With a little bit of distance I can see that this is an accomplished novel, well written and stunningly relevant in places for all that it is seventy years old. The problem is that I just did not enjoy it! In fact, it left me feeling slightly uncomfortable and more than a little unclean. I appreciate it for its clever story telling but would struggle to recommend or to re-read.

Plot in a Nutshell
Less plot and more a study of a group of characters as told by Tod Hackett, a relatively recent arrival to Depression era Hollywood. Through his interactions with the would be stars, in reality minor extras with limited opportunity we see a spotlight shone on the promise of the American dream.

Thoughts
On paper the Golden Age of Hollywood is in full swing and the Depression sweeping the rest of America seems quieter here. However hiding not very far below the surface is a Hollywood where dreams don’t stand up to scrutiny and dreamers come to die. So far so depressing right? It gets worse…

West compellingly paints a picture of cynical, self serving characters – at first glance they all seem slightly overdone and almost caricatured versions of our current worst thoughts about Hollywood. It took me a little while to remind myself that this was not a modern day satirical take on Hollywood but rather an ‘of the age’ satirical take on Hollywood. The more we get to know them however we see each has zero ability for them to emotionally connect with each other – each interaction is underpinned by a strong sense of ‘what’s in it for me’. If West wanted to paint a soulless environment and relationships he succeeded. And that’s before was addressing the fact that main character is open to discussing his fantasies of raping the woman he is infatuated with.

On the subject of strong female characters; Faye is a real disappointment. The lust the male characters have for her permeates the book and should have the reader feeling much more sympathetic. She is after all still a teenager predominantly spending time with much older men. She is however decidedly unsympathetic and her manipulations of her would be suitors meant I could not connect with her at all. As a metaphor for Hollywood itself she was well written, as a character you could empathise with less so ( )
1 vote itchyfeetreader | Apr 24, 2018 |
2.5/5
MEH ( )
  weberam2 | Nov 24, 2017 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (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 (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
West, Nathanaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boos, CeesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fruttero, CarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schulberg, BuddIntroductionsecondary 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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Book description
"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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