Monday, January 19, 2015

The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West

The Day of the Locust
Lately, I have been picking some of the shorter novels on the 100 Best Novels list. You all know how busy I've been this past year and I have finally realized that shorter novels get done faster. Duh. I'll have time for the long ones this year...hopefully.

Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust is one of the shortest on the year. Some editions clock in less than 200 pages. In a lot of ways, it felt more like a novella than a full novel. Not just the length, but somehow the story itself felt shortened and not fully explored.

Granted, I think that's kind of the point. The book focuses on the Hollywood lifestyle. The characters, none famous, live in a shallow world of affairs and violence. Nothing penetrates them too deeply. In the same way the entertainment industry presents only part of a person, a caricature, West offers his characters as empty shells, thin reflections of what real people are like.

West captures the vanity and superficiality of the environment so well without bringing in a single real member of the industry. Instead, he focuses on the little people and how the falsity of the movie life looks when cast onto ordinary lives.  

The book made me sad, honestly. West wrote this thirty years ago and set it in the 1930s, but I think the world he was critiquing is more alive and well than ever. What I find particularly interesting is that, since the book was published, the world of Hollywood has seeped far past the boundaries of L.A. The digital revolution and success of things like social media and reality television have brought this world to every doorstep. I wonder what West would have to say now. I have a feeling a sequel or follow-up novel about modern times would be just as biting, poignant, and heartbreaking. 

On a personal level, it was nice to read a book from the list that was set in more contemporary times. While I adore turn-of-the-century stuff, I've been ready to see some more recent work. This was a refreshing change, despite the novel's commentary on our society. In some ways, it's message made me miss those very antiquated, polite-society novels from which I have been wanting a break.

Pages: 208
Date Completed: December 13, 2014

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