Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn

I recently saw Miss Lonelyhearts described as the best novel of the 20th century. So I got Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust (they are both short so are often found in a single volume.) I thought Miss Lonelyhearts was good, and a bit shocking as well. It was written in the early 30s, but has some rather graphic sexual bits. I liked that book, but I thought Day of the Locust was much better. The second book was written shortly before the author's death in 1940 and is the story of Southern California from the loser's perspective. Of course we have read plenty of stories about the rise and fall of actors, cops or other prototypical Southern California figures, but we don't often get the no-rise, all fall stories.

The author follows a number of people who moved to Southern California to follow specific dreams, all of which didn't work out. The characters are all infatuated with a young beauty, who tempts and taunts them. She no doubt is the dream that failed. In the final chapter, the author expands beyond his characters to talk about the masses of people who moved to California for the good life, only to find it was as unsatisfying as the old life in Iowa. I think West has hit on a peculairly American problem, the elusive quest for satisfaction. Americans are rarely satisfied with anything. This has its definate upsides like continual improvement, innovation and a motive to fight a variety of status quos. On the downside, even very successful Americans often think of what they didn't get, instead of what they have.

On the super duper plus side, this book is short, only about 160 small pages. So you have nothing to lose!

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