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Book #66: The Day Of The Locust

I’m tired of reading books about depressed, alcoholic, hopeless twenty-somethings.

I’m just tired of it, man.

I get it. I really do. Your 20s is probably the most volatile, unpredictable decade of your life. It’s a time period that’s easy to write about because it connects with so many people.

We’ve all been there trying to figure out what to do with our lives, trying to figure out what that girl we like is thinking, trying to figure out if we really hate our job enough to quit and pursue something new. For some people, trying not to be drunk all the time.

So I understand why authors like Nathanael West feel led to write about this time period. And I understand why Hemingway wrote about it in The Sun Also Rises or Malcolm Lowry in Under The Volcano or Jack Kerouac in On The Road. But when you put all these books on a list and read them relatively close to each other, the reading gets cumbersome.

So with that, I’m not sure I gave The Day of the Locust a fair shake. I’m bringing nearly four years of bias—that of reading depressing books about twenty-somethings—when I opened the first page of The Day of the Locust.

And after reading this book’s 150 pages, I feel pretty much the same about The Day of the Locust as when I started—and that feeling is one of indifference.

At least in regards to the other books on the list, The Day of the Locust is unique in its setting—1930s Hollywood. The loose story follows the sad lives of an artist named Tod Hackett, a part-time bit actress, part-time prostitute, an angry dwarf, a Mexican cockfighting ringleader, a sad pathetic sack named Homer Simpson, and several other Hollywood outcasts.

You read that correctly. The story does indeed feature an angry dwarf, a cockfighting ring, and a depressing old pervert named Homer Simpson—yes, Homer Simpson.

Nathanael West drops you into the middle of this mess of characters without much context. You stay with them for a little while, and then the story ends and you’re pulled right out again. The novel moves linearly for the most part, but there’s no tightly wound plot here. The Day of the Locust is more of a character study than anything else.

The Hollywood angle is fresh. West portrays a Hollywood that is nowhere near as glamorous as you might think. The people feel a little more like sideshows at a traveling carnival, instead of Hollywood stars.

But that’s basically what they are, sideshows, because these characters are the outcasts of Hollywood, the people who traveled to make it big but never saw that dream happen. Yet they still hang around, waiting and hoping for their big chance.

And that’s the fuel that drives the story. It’s the despair of these characters that ties them together throughout the novel.

This quote from The Day of the Locust pretty much sums up every character:

“Only those who still have hope can benefit from tears. When they finish, they feel better. But to those without hope, whose anguish is basic and permanent, no good comes from crying. Nothing changes for them. They usually know this, but still can’t help crying.”

nathanael-west

Nathanael West

Each character, in his or her own way, seems on the verge of tears. Maybe not physical tears, but at least an emotional breakdown.

I have to credit Nathanael West for making these characters shine in such a bleak novel. You can feel their sadness and empathize with them, despite how unlikeable they are.

Ultimately, though, The Day of the Locust just fell flat for me. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this review, maybe had I read this novel earlier in the 101 Books, I would’ve appreciated it more.

But as it stands, I’d have to say this was a mostly forgettable experience.

Other Stuff

The Opening Line: “Around quitting time, Tod Hackett heard a great din on the road outside his office.”

The Meaning: The “locust” reference likely comes from Exodus in the Bible, when God sends a plague of locusts on Egypt when the pharaoh doesn’t free the Jews. The novel is filled with self-destruction and a lot of ominous undertones, which ties in well with the title.

Highlights: Nathanael West is excellent at character profiles. You really get to know these Hollywood outcasts, even though you might not like them. The book also provides a different side of Hollywood than you might be accustomed to seeing.

Lowlights: The cockfighting scene is memorable, in a pretty grotesque way. Otherwise, nothing jumps out at me as a lowlight, but that’s mainly because the book was mostly forgettable, in my humble opinion.

Memorable Line: “Only those without hope can benefit from tears.”

Final Thoughts: This is a book that I picked up, read, and put back down over the course of a week, without it making much of an impression. Nothing about The Day of the Locust says “classic novel” to me, but that’s why lists like the Time list are so unique, and its inclusion on the list is proof that they are certainly subjective.

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19 Comments Post a comment
  1. I guess that quote pretty much defines being a twenty-something. I bored myself writing poems about despair and hopelessness during my twenties. Hope you’re reading something memorable now.

    Liked by 1 person

    January 22, 2014
  2. Well.At least it was short and you got to admire West’s very full and dark mustache.
    Onward and upward!

    Liked by 1 person

    January 22, 2014
  3. Angle is Fresh … Love that word. Thanks Robert ;D

    Like

    January 22, 2014
  4. Lucille #

    After that dive into depressing literature I think it’s time for the hope-filled Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It is one of your next four, right?.

    Like

    January 22, 2014
    • Next 3, yep. Not the next book, but it’s in line after that one.

      Like

      January 22, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on iconobaptist and commented:
    This is an interesting take on a book I could not bring myself to finish reading in high school (my literature teacher loaned it to me and I gave up because it was depressing in a perverse sort of way).

    Like

    January 22, 2014
  6. Reblogged this on Curiosidades na internet.

    Like

    January 22, 2014
  7. Find a better book. Try Fluke, a dog’s story or read a thriller, a romance. Just read a happy book.

    Like

    January 22, 2014
  8. sorry to hear it was such a dud! I also find it funny that you kept calling it forgettable, even though on the cover it’s explicitly advertised as “An Unforgettable Picture of People Inhabiting the Bizarre and Erotic Underside of Hollywood.” Guess that description wasn’t very accurate!

    Like

    January 22, 2014
  9. It’s interesting about the Bible reference. I found also Bible’s references in The Great Gatsby. Not sure the meaning of this or whether this is widespread among writers of West’s and Fitzgerald’s generation.

    Like

    January 22, 2014
    • I think writers of most generations before ours could safely assume that readers would catch biblical references.

      Like

      January 23, 2014
  10. I don’t know if this directly references your points about 20-somethng stories but On The Road drove me crazy with its self centred-ness. I started off liking it and about halfway through I was just “this guy is a JERK” and that thought became stronger and stronger until I couldn’t keep reading. I am a bad bibliophile. Maybe I should try giving it another go.

    Like

    January 22, 2014
  11. Ha! I have this on my to read list …….but perhaps I’ll put it off for a bit !! Hope your next book is less depressing !

    Like

    January 23, 2014
  12. Liz #

    I had the exact same reaction. It’s also on the Modern Library list. I suppose I should read up on why it’s considered such a great novel but I can’t even get interested in that. All I remember is Homer Simpson but that’s about it.

    Like

    January 24, 2014
  13. J.E. Fountain #

    Yep…I agree, though I’ll say of the three you compare this to: The Sun Also Rises, Under the Volcano, and On the Road, I liked this best. I think I like West more than Hemingway, Lowry, or Kerouac as well. My review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-day-of-locust-by-nathanael-west-55.html

    Like

    July 24, 2015

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Ranking The First 71 Novels | 101 Books
  2. FBF: All TIME 100 Novels – The Day of the Locust | Lilolia

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