Pulp Friday: The Day of the Locust

Day of the LocustMost people are familiar with the 1975 John Schlesinger film, The Day of the Locust, starring Donald Sutherland, Burgess Meredith and Karen Black.

But long before it appeared in cinemas, The Day of the Locust was an influential novel by US author, Nathanael West. Today’s Pulp Friday offering is the 1957 edition of the novel by Bantam Books. I have no idea who did the stunning cover image for this paperback version.

Both the novel and the film are set during the Great Depression and focus on a young artist who comes to Hollywood and is soon sucked into a nightmare world of hustlers, struggling actors and actresses and various other low life denizens on the fringes of the movie business. It is often viewed as one of the best books written on the underbelly of the American dream.

Nathanael knew of what he was writing about in The Day of the Locust, having worked for a time as a screenwriter for RKO pictures.


2 Responses

  1. I adapted West’s other novel, ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ to the stage in the early seventies. It entered production but didn’t make it to final performance. That book has also been filmed, among other times, as ‘Lonelyhearts’ with Montgomery Clift deploying some very dark expressionist noirisms. Worth chasing despite its re-writes.
    At the time of completing ‘The Day of the Locust’ West was in the US Communist Party and there is some debate over the meaning of the last savage sequence. Certainly nihilism comes to mind…but any consistent Marxist interpretation is a hard ask I reckon.
    I think the book has some stunning sections and West’s earlier surrealism (see esp ‘The Dram Life of Balso Snell’ with a plot that has to be read to be believed) is better harnessed. His prose is ab fab. You get these fancies that read like a Shakespearian monologue. But he always wrote short: novellas. You can collect all of West in an afternoon and read him all, overnight.
    I think the Cohen bros’ “Barton Fink’ owes a lot to West.I don’t know: Maybe even all the Cohen bros movies owe a lot to West. There’s the same smart marriage of expressionism and narrative without all the indulgences you get, say, often in Fellini.
    And he is a noir precursor. Keen on the melodramatic edge.Obsessed with tragedy.
    …then came his own: car crash at 37. (1940)

  2. Dave,
    Nice to see you back and thanks for thee fascinating comments. I had no idea West was in the CP while he was finished The Day of The Locust, although, now you tell me & having read the book, I am not surprised.

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