1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 42: The Day Of The Locust, by Nathaniel West

The Day Of The Locust is a simple novel on the surface, it tells the tale of a would-be artist, Todd Hackett, who is prostituting his talents to Hollywood and in turn hands ownership of his work to production companies who see his work as worthy of a temporary background that will in all likelihood end up in the trash. Hackett falls in lust with a shallow, manipulative and beautiful would-be actress, Faye Greener, who likewise is seen as background fodder and a semi-retired number cruncher, Homer Simpson, who has moved out west for his personal health, only to see his nest egg dwindle as he invites Faye to live with him and takes her excessive personal expenses under his care. In an attempt to get close with Faye, Todd indulges in a friendship with her ailing father which seems to turn into a genuine relationship. Todd and Homer both are perhaps romantics with saviour complexes and each seems to wish to redeem beautiful sinners and seem to project a sort of Christ/Magdalene relationship with the women around them. Faye however is no romantic and assert that she would only sleep with a man who could afford her, and only fall in love with one who is beautiful. Todd and Homer both seem to fail in their aspirations with Faye, while a cow-boy named Earle and his Mexican, cock-fighting cohort Migel, both succeed without much care or effort. Earle and Migel seem to be a realization of the Western fantasy, like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, only bankrupt of morals and sans heroic aspirations. They are broke and cruel and disloyal even to each other. Homer and Faye are both shallow, though in very different ways, and Todd, though not likable, does offer somewhat more depth and has redeeming qualities. He seems to represent the duality of man, he wants to be Christ and offer salvation to Faye, but when things don’t go his way he is quick to call her a whore for having worked for a madam, though he had no problem with her taking the job when it offered him an avenue to finally sleep with her (though his jealousy did encourage him warn her off the profession). His outward fraternal nature to Faye and her father is poisoned by inward fantasies of rape, but in maintaining this dual nature, Todd actually attempts to disrupt a sexual assault when he is swooped up by a mob, taking a young girl into his arms and fighting off her would-be attacker. She is soon lost in the mob and he receives no reward for his kindness. And he himself can be seen as a whore since he sells his talents to production companies. And since Todd is a modernist of sorts in that his talent excels in the realist vein or art, but is ultimately only useful background fodder, the novel seems to suggest a futility in the conventional artistic process. Todd’s complex and duplicitous nature serves as the perfect back drop for a narrative that takes place in Hollywood, a city that sells dreams and provides nightmares. Artists sell their talents, women sell their bodies, our heroes our homeless bums who torture animals, and those who see even a little success are member of the working class are ultimately seen as tricks or marks for those more manipulative bottom feeders. Vice is rewarded, and virtue almost non-existent. And in the end the mob mentality of the Romans is still the voice of the masses.

If you liked this:

Less Than Zero, by Brett Easton Ellis. This novel has a cast of characters that are not entirely dissimilar to those in West’s work. Most are outwardly shallow, and the protagonist is a passive participant whose only redemptive quality is that he won’t participate vice when it is finally offered him.

 

Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk. Would-be celebrities fail to find their dreams and succeed in finding the darkness within and becoming the architects of their own nightmares.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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