The Hunter of Doves
March 20, 2015 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Miss Lonelyhearts, The Day of the Locust, A Cool Million, and The Dream Life of Balso Snell, all by Nathanael West

This post was prompted by the Neglected Books Page's recent essay on Josephine Herbst, a radical novelist who was friends with West between 1928, when he was beginning to write in earnest, and 1940, when he died in a car crash.
West’s novels, which had never been best-sellers, quickly fell out of print, but in the aftermath of World War Two, a new generation of critics, such Lionel Trilling and Alfred Kazin, began to discover and appreciate the bleak and absurdist tone of his work. A number of academics and critics became interested in his life, and their researches led a number of them to Josephine Herbst’s doorstep.

She soon grew aggravated by their inclination to view West’s life and work through a postwar prism that exaggerated his foresight and ignored the good and bad points of his character. And so, sometime in 1953, she set aside the book she had been working on...and wrote "Hunter of Doves," a short novel based on her memories of West.
Given "the fact that 'Hunter of Doves' has never been reprinted and can be found only in the rare academic libraries holding back issues of Botteghe Oscure," the Neglected Books Page has posted the entire novel online [PDF].
posted by Iridic (11 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I used to live essentially right across the street from West's old place in Hollywood, which thrilled me, as he was both one of the best and more terrifying satiric writers I have ever read, with Day of the Locust managing to be both the perfect Hollywood novel and the most apocalyptic Hollywood novel ever written.

He died shortly after his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, also the author of some terrifically monstrous Hollywood stories. Actually, it was possibly more than that. He may have been so distraught over Scott's death that he lost control of his car, which killed both him and his wife. They were on their way back for his funeral. They died within a day of each other.

Sometimes Hollywood actually is apocalyptic.
posted by maxsparber at 1:51 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

His wife was the Eileen of My Sister Eileen.
posted by brujita at 1:53 PM on March 20, 2015

Awesome. I've been a fan of West ever since seeing the movie version of The Day of the Locust and moving from that to his beautiful and oh so dreary body of work. I've a lengthy train ride tomorrow, and it looks like I'll be reading Hunter of Doves during it. Thank you.
posted by frimble at 1:54 PM on March 20, 2015

Also unjustly neglected is the movie version of Miss Lonelyhearts from 1958 (just called Lonelyhearts) which is not as perfect as the novel but has some truly great performances by Montgomery Clift (post accident i think), Myrna Loy, Robert Ryan and Maureen Stapleton. Hoping the new Clift biopic gets people to reassess some of his lesser known movies, since he really didn't make that many.
posted by neat graffitist at 2:01 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Reading Day Of The Locust in the Hollywood Hills was enough to spook me for DAYS
posted by The Whelk at 2:34 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I picked up The Day of the Locust ten years ago and finished it in a single sitting. It was beautifully written, engaging, and horrifying all at once. It's also a book that I do not think I could read again because that ending was just too intense for me.

The other thing that kind of hit me hard was how timeless the book felt, it didn't feel like a book that was written in 1939. It felt very much of this time period. That it still resonates so many years later is a testament to its quality.
posted by Fizz at 3:14 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I was a kid and my mother took me to the bookmobile, I would gravitate to the "humor" shelf and no one stopped me, not my mother and not the hippie who ran the bookmobile (who probably would have let me check out anything on the bus). Anyway, that's how I read "Miss Lonelyhearts" and had to readjust my expectation of what "humor" was. When I was older, I read all the rest, and consider "Day of the Locust" a worthy partner to "The Last Tycoon" as the two greatest books on Hollywood.
posted by acrasis at 3:16 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

The description of the cockfight in Day of the Locust is one of the most chilling things I've ever read.
posted by QuietDesperation at 4:04 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Clift would have been fabulous in a non-bowlderized version of Miss Lonelyhearts.
posted by brujita at 6:08 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Day of the Locust was the first book I ever read that made me realize that writing could be transcendent and sublime while simultaneously able to impart incredibly grim realities. I was sixteen or seventeen when I read it, and I still remember the scene when Tod Hackett is walking through the discarded sets of old movies like I read it yesterday. (Okay, I read it again few years ago, but the physical detritus of Hollywood, coupled with the human detritus of those desperate characters was chilling, and still, every time I see some story about another child wannabe star falling apart very publicly, I recall Day of the Locust.)

Day of the Locust might not be the sole reason I embraced writing, but it is one of the main ones. Nathanael West has a limited dossier, but what is in there is profound in my life, and Day of the Locust is one of my Desert Island books.

What's also amazing is how much West conveyed in so little prose. I'm thrilled to find a new West book here. THANKS.

Peter Jackson and your three shitty Hobbit movies: go back to the source and read Day of the Locust. Take notes and expect a quiz.
posted by readymade at 7:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Argh. Not a new West book, but a cohort?

Okay. Must fully read the whole post first.
posted by readymade at 7:40 PM on March 20, 2015

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