Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (1933, 147 pages)

This is a savage novel with the power to hurt 

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (1903 to 1940-USA- he died in an automobile accident) is one of the very best 20st century American novels to expose directly the dark side of the American dream.   Harold Bloom includes it along with Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and  parts of Gravity's Rainbow as the only examples of the sublime in the American novel in the 20st century.   He also points out the very strong influence on The Crying of Lot 49  of Miss Lonelyhearts.  As soon as I read this, I saw it was true.

Parts of Miss Lonelyhearts are terrible, terrible in an old fashion way meaning terrifyingly deep and overwhelmingly sad.   It is about the preterite of New York City in the early 1930s.  

Miss. Lonelyhearts is really a man who writes an advise column for a New York City newspaper.   The letters he receives are desperate and heartbreaking.  They send him into a downward cycle of depression. He tries to escape this, we never learn his actual name, with three affairs, including one with the wife of a letter writer, and his deep belief in Jesus.  (If you are seeking help with a school assignment to avoid reading the book, I suggest you check the Wikipedia article.)   He ends up being invited to a dinner by one of his letter writers, a crippled man.  His wife tries to seduce him 
She tells her husband that he tried to rape her.

There are deep religious themes in this book, Harold Bloom (for whose opinion I have a lot of respect) says it is really a story about being Jewish in American ( West's real name was  Nathan von Wallenstein Weinstein.   The ending is very shocking and will keep me thinking for a long time.

I urge everyone to read this novel.   The letters will flabbergast you with their deep sadness and their beauty. The character of Miss Lonelyhearts is just brilliant.   This is a savage novel with the power to hurt its readers when they see their own lives in its pages.

West was also a Hollywood screen writer and wrote  three novels, none considered on a par with this one.  His second best work is considered to be The Day of the Locusts.  Ten or so of his screen plays were made into movies but I am not familiar with any of them.

Please share your experience with West with us.  This novel in the the public domain and can be downloaded for free.  You can also download it for $8.95 from Amazon.

Miss Lonelyhearts sounds heartbreaking,
I love it already-Carmilla-
Mel u


Patty said...

I really appreciated your review and have already downloaded the book. Thanks for introducing me to this author!

Unknown said...

Your posts often get me thinking; this one has.

It's been a very long time since I read them both, but I don't recall a connection between Miss Lonelyhearts and The Crying of Lot 49 at all. Except that I loved them both. I just may have to re-read them to see what I can find.

Have you read Day of the Locust? Again, it's been a while, but I'd rank it above Miss Lonelyhearts. I should re-read it, too, just to be sure.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Hopefully reading your post will prompt me to finally read this book. I bought a copy years ago at the urging of writer Ann Patchett, who has always said this is one of the best pieces of 20th century literaure, highly overlooked, etc. thanks for the nudge!

Erin O'Riordan said...

I have no experience with West. I'm reading Patricia Bosworth's biography of Montgomery Clift, and I know that to prep for the film version, Clift read ALL of West's novels. Apparently, though, the novel and the screenplay are vastly different.

Buried In Print said...

I found this quite a disturbing read too; I love the vintage cover art you've included, which suits the story more than the staid classic look that the edition I read sported.

pat jourdan said...

Nathaniel West is my favourite author,ever since first encountering Miss Lonelyhearts at the age of fifteen.
There is a wonderfully perceptive study of his writings by Victor Comerchero "Nathaniel West: The Ironic Prophet" University of Washington Press 1964/and 1967. These books have travelled with me overthe years and have deepened in the layers of meaning.