RUGBY: “Life wears you down, it fucks you up. Life is a big cartoon fist aimed squarely at your nose, and no matter how frantically you scrape or paw or scratch, it’s going to hit the mark (blammmo! little cartoon birdies flapping around your noble, dazed, orange head!) These two works by Nathanael West—a novella from 1933, a novel from 1939—are set in New York and Hollywood, respectively, thereby definitely proving that a perfect climate does not lead to emotional and psychic happiness. Miss Lonelyhearts is a slim, nasty little number about an advice columnist suddenly overburdened by the terrible moral funk of the world (some of the Christian shit gets a bit heavy-handed, but I couldn’t tell if it was sarcastic or whatnot—some of the smartest people can turn out to be Christians, you’ve got to be very fucking careful). The Day of the Locust is a love-triangle story (or some other shape, maybe a rhombus—more horny corners, but all of them focused on one young lady). Our hero here is a sort of set designer/scene painter in L.A. named Tod Hackett. He—along with several other wannabe Lotharios—is obsessed with a horridly pretentious struggling actress named Faye Greener. (“Being with her was like being backstage during an amateurish, ridiculous play. From in front, the stupid lines and grotesque situations would have made him squirm with annoyance, but because he saw the tawdry summerhouse with its tangle of paper flowers, he accepted everything and was anxious for it to succeed.”) Other people eager to paw Ms. Greener silly: An Aspberger-y cowboy; a man unable to control his hands, named Homer Simpson (no relation); a Mexican hombre with ambitions in the D.I.Y. cockfighting scene (not a euphemism).
A lotta shit happens, including some nicely anarchic house parties, and a chase scene through the fictitious postmodern hell of Hollywood’s back lots. Tod Hackett keeps conjuring ideas for a painting called The Burning of Los Angeles, which makes me think that a bro named Ed Ruscha must’ve read this book before painting his depiction of LACMA in flames.
In any case, it’s all bleak, with a chuckle. Here’s a description of the masses of L.A. residents who’ve gathered to go wild during a film premiere:
Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges don’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.
Mr. West, Mr. West, pass the fucking cyanide! For a second you probably thought I’d accidentally inserted a paragraph from The Coming Insurrection. But rest assured: All this dooming and glooming is tempered by a nice dose of farce (including one irate midget who likes to kick people in the balls). These books are old as shit, but they still ring with a real contemporary relevance, exhaustingly so.