Miss Lonelyhearts & the Day of the Locust

Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West For those who've not heard of Nathanael West, a wikipedia link. I'd seen this book in my father's bookshelves and always meant to get around to reading it. And so recently, I managed to.I'm going to have a rough time explaining how I feel about this book because it's going to be another one of those "I admire the writing ability but dislike the characters" stories for me. (At this point I'm going to give in and create a GoodReads shelf for books I think of this way.) This means that while I can step outside my feelings for the story and characters and see the author as someone who's done some excellent writing and admire that - and at the same time have a deep "ugh" feeling towards the characters. Sometimes that's how an author wants me, the reader, to feel - but I'm honestly the type of person that will never deeply enjoy a book whose characters and world I deeply dislike, and am never going to want to read it again and again. That's what bumps something to 4 and 5 stars for me - that I like a book so much I want to read it again and re-experience it.Both stories have endings that immediately made me think "this is where the class would sit and have a long discussion of what happened and what it means." Not that this is a bad thing - in fact I can see that these would be juicy stories for reading groups to tackle. But since I didn't empathize with any of the characters I didn't feel any of my usual "argh, what happened next" that I often do with such endings. In fact, I was pretty sure I could tell. What this boils down to is that since I had no empathy I was ok with thinking about metaphor and deeper meaning without having to think about this as a story about real human beings. Not sure if that's a plus or a minus, really.I hate giving stars to this sort of book. It's a two star on my full enjoyment of the character and story - yet easily a three star because of the writing and storytelling, especially in Day of the Locust. So I'll fall to giving it a three, and feel somewhat weird about that since I didn't "like" it. (Grading books is annoying this way.)I have to split more specific nittering into two reviews because the stories are so completely different in setting and tone.Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)Plot summary: wikipedia linkThe main character, agony column writer Miss Lonelyhearts, is someone I really couldn't wrap my head around. He apparently has a Christ fixation, as he sees it anyway, but I couldn't find anything Christlike in the way he acted or treated others. While he seems to feel the suffering and depression for the people with problems who write him letters, he alternately treats his fiance with contempt and hatred and then caring. He and another man drunkenly accost and mistreat an elderly man, accusing him of homosexuality ("The old fag is going to cry.") and then hurt him physically. So as far as I can tell the ways in which he's Christlike are only in his and his editor's minds - and in a purely mocking vision of Christ, not anything to be taken seriously. In 2013-speak it's all taken ironically. I didn't hate Miss Lonelyhearts because he wasn't Christlike - I hated him because he was cruel to others yet thought he was somehow becoming more Christlike, or as he interpreted it. In my mind merely reading letters of suffering and realizing those people were suffering didn't elevate him to that level.I actually was able to understand him better once I decided he was gradually going insane and losing touch with reality - or humanity. That's the only sense I could grasp him being Christlike - if you boil that idea down to the very shallow concept of only being "apart from/outside of/above humanity." If there had been any touch of him actually becoming kind or caring for the other people he interacts with? Then I could have gone along with the story a bit better. The problem with this story is that all of the quotes that will give you an idea of it, I dislike - again, the content of the quotes, not the writing style itself, which I still feel was quite good.p. 3, an example of the sort of letter that comes to Miss Lonelyhearts: "...I would like to have boy friends like the other girls and go out on Satuday nites, but no boy will take me because I was born without a nose - although I am a good dancer and have a nice shape and my father buys me pretty clothes.I sit and look at myself all day and cry."There's more but that's all I have the heart to copy. All of the letters are filled with suffering.p 12:"Betty reached for his brow. "What's the matter?" she asked. "Are you sick?"He began to shout at her, accompanying his shouts with gestures that were too appropriate, like those of an old-fashioned actor."What a kind bitch you are. As soon as any one acts viciously you say he's sick. Wife-torturers, rapers of small children, according to you they're all sick. No morality, only medicine. Well, I'm not sick. I don't need any of your damned aspirin. I've got a Christ complex. Humanity...I'm a humanity lover. All the broken bastards..." He finished with a short laugh that was like a bark."p 14, men in a bar, complaining about female writers:"And they've all got three names," he said. "Mary Roberts Wilcox, Ella Wheeler Catheter, Ford Mary Rinehart..."Then someone started a train of stories by suggesting that what they all needed was a good rape."[One of which was a gang rape. Nice. I skipped copying this part because, ugh. Let's hop on to how Miss Lonelyhearts thinks about this topic.]"...Miss Lonelyhearts stopped listening. His friends would go on telling these stories until they were too drunk to talk. They were aware of their childishness, but did not know how else to revenge themselves. At college, and perhaps for a year afterwards, they had believed in literature, had believed in Beauty and in personal expression as an absolute end. When they lost this belief, they lost everything. Money and fame meant nothing to them. They were not worldly men."So they're all misogynistic because they cared too deeply in art such that now everything is lost? But then this is Miss Lonelyhearts speaking (mentally), and I've already decided he's lost touch with reality - so that not making sense works, I suppose. But it's a repellent scene all around.I think from those quotes you can grasp why I never felt much empathy for Miss Lonelyhearts.The Day of the Locust (1939)I first heard of this story in its movie version, and I have to confess that when I saw it on the tv schedule I thought it was going to be along the lines of Them!, The Killer Shrews, or Night of the Lepus. Needless to say, this was not the story I was hoping for.Plot summary: wikipedia linkThis story drew me in a lot more than Miss Lonelyhearts because at first we seem a nice narrator - an artist, Tod Hackett, who is new to Hollywood who's working in and around the movie industry and the odd folk that the industry draws to it. The plot then centers around Hackett's attraction to Faye Greener and Faye's interactions with various men. The point when it really lost me was when Hackett's inner monologs made it really clear that he really wanted to rape Faye. At first this desire is only seen as something he feels, but more and more he interprets it as something she wants as well. His thoughts are not subtle, and it's not some kind of metaphor - he fantasizes in various places about raping her. So until that point I was fine with Hackett as a narrator - but when his thoughts went more and more down that path, he began to seem just as damaged and/or awful as the other characters. Because West seems to be really good at writing about very damaged people that in real life you wouldn't want to get anywhere near.Having said that I thought there was a lot of really wonderful description of LA at this time period, about the disappearance of vaudeville actors (in the character of Harry), and about people escaping to California during the Depression.Quotes:p 60, Tod looking at people in the crowd: "...Scattered among the masquerades were people of a different type. Their clothing was somber and badly cut, brought from mail-order houses. While the others moved rapidly, darting into stores and coctail bars, they loitered on the corners or stood with their backs to the shop windows and stared at everyone who passed. When their stare was returned, their eyes filled with hatred. At this time Tod knew very little about them except that they had come to California to die."p 68, Tod looking at a photograph of Faye Greener"...She was supposed to look inviting, but the invitation wasn't to pleasure.Tod lit a cigarette and inhaled with a nervous gasp. He started to fool with his tie again, but had to go back to the photograph.Her invitation wasn't to pleasure, but to struggle, hard and sharp, closer to murder than to love. If you threw yourself on her, it would be like throwing yourself from the parapet of a skyscraper. You would do it with a scream. you couldn't expect to rise again. Your teeth would be driven into your skull like nails into a pine board and your back would be broken. You wouldn't even have time to sweat or close your eyes.He managed to laugh at his language, but it wasn't a real laugh and nothing was destroyed by it.If she would only let him, he would be glad to throw himself, no matter what the cost. But she wouldn't have him."p 73:"They started out in several cars. Tod rode in the front of the one Claude drive and as they went down Sunset Boulevard he described Mrs. Jenning for him. She had been a fairly prominent actress in the days of silent films, but sound made it impossible for her to get work. Instead of becoming an extra or a bit player like many other old stars, she had shown excellent business sense and had opened a callhouse. She wasn't vicious. Far from it. She ran her business just as other women run lending libraries, shrewdly and with taste....And she was really cultured. All the most distinguished visitors considered it quite a lark to meet her. They were disappointed, however, when they discovered how refined she was. They wanted to talk about certain lively matters of universal interest, but she insisted on discussing Gertrude Stein and Juan Gris. No matter how hard the distinguished visitor tried, and some had been known to go to really great lengths, he could never find a flaw in her refinement or make a breach in her culture."p. 76 Tod listening to Harry:"He sat near Harry's bed and listened to his stories by the hour. Forty years in vaudeville and burlesque had provided him with an infinite number of them. As he put it, his life had consisted of a lightning series of "nip-ups," "high-gruesomes," "flying-W's" and "hundred-and-eights" done to escape a barrage of "exploding stoves." An "exploding stove" was any catastrophe, natural or human, from a flood in Medicine Hat, Wyoming, to an angry policeman in Moose Factory, Ontario.When Harry had first begun his stage career, he had probably restricted his clowning to the boards, but now he clowned continuously. It was his sole method of defense. Most people, he had discovered, won't go out of their way to punish a clown."