The Day of the Locust

by Nathanael West

Written in 1939, The Day of the Locust is an indemnification of Hollywood via a portrayal of its most marginalized inhabitants: has-beens, never-will-bes, or as this book's protagonist likes to call them, people who have "come to California to die." The author, Nathanael West, never lived to enjoy its success. The book was largely unnoticed upon publication, and West died an untimely death at age 37 the following year in a car accident, rushing to get to F. Scott Fitzgerald's funeral. (Fitzgerald was his friend and neighbor and had died only the day before, also untimely at 44, of a heart attack.) In fact it is only posthumously that Nathanael West is regarded as a literary great, leaving one to wonder how much like his marginalized characters he felt.

This book is worth a read. The narrative is engaging as it sometimes allows itself to be taken over by the story of secondary characters, who temporarily derail the chronology with their own background information or the retelling of a part of the story that is missing because it was not witnessed by the main character. The cast of characters is exclusively male except for one, Faye Greener. She proves a femme fatale of sorts to the men around her. She is a reckless tease, despite being a real Hollywood nobody and not-at-all likeable as a person. The book is largely comprised of scenes of Faye winding up the male characters' sexual desire so tightly—often in a group situation—that the author has to offer some outlet; not sex, of course. Thus the reader is treated to scenes like fisticuffs, cock fights—yes, literal ones (i.e., with roosters)—and rape fantasies (from otherwise decent characters). That's the microcosm. The macrocosm would be the feeding frenzy perpetrated by fans on celebrities. A scene like this comes to pass at the book's conclusion and helps explain the title, I think. Anyone who has lived in, worked in, or has an interest in Hollywood would be pleased to read this book. As much as things have changed there since the thirties...much has stayed the same.

One quick note to the reader. One of West's main characters is called, "Homer Simpson." Strange but true.