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American novelist Nathanael West was born in New York City, the son of a prosperous building contractor. He began his college education at Tufts University but transferred to Brown University, from which he graduated in 1924. After graduation, West went to Europe and lived in Paris for a few years, where he wrote the short novel The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931), an avant--garde work that reflected his concern with the emptiness of contemporary life. West's modest legacy of completed works reached its peak of recognition during the period when later Jewish American writers were discovering black humor. Among novels that chronicle the wasteland despair and grotesque comedy of the time between the wars, West's Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939) stand out as remarkable examples. The first is about a young man conducting a column of advice to the lovelorn who finds it increasingly impossible not to share the problems of his readers. The Day of the Locust story about a riot that ends with the burning of Los Angeles. If Franz Kafka (see Vol. 2) had lived to come to the United States and become a screenwriter, he might have written a book like The Day of the Locust, which Malcolm Cowley called the best novel ever written about Hollywood. West's other short novel, A Cool Million (1934), is, like The Dream Life of Balso Snell, an experimental work that offers variations on the theme of reality and illusion; both works look toward a literature of the absurd and deserve their place in literary history as influences on a school of American writers that came into prominence during the 1960s. West's own life had aspects of tragic absurdity. He was married to Eileen McKenney, the original of the central figure in My Sister Eileen, while his own sister became the wife of humorist S. J. Perelman. After writing Miss Lonelyhearts, West and his wife went to Hollywood and remained there until they were both killed in a car accident in 1940. (Bowker Author Biography)
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Nathan Wallenstein Weinstein was the child of German-speaking Russian-Jewish parents living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He dropped out of high school and gained admission to college by falsifying his high school transcript. In 1931, West published his first work, The Dream Life of Balso Snell. In 1933, he got contract as a scriptwriter for Columbia Pictures and moved to Hollywood. He and his wife were both killed in a car accident in 1940.
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