A book by Nathanael West, published in 1939. West writes about the filthy, corrupt world of Hollywood, where the American dream turns into a nightmare. Beneath the façade of beautiful houses and beautiful people there is an ugly, twisted realm where people will do anything to get what they want, and rarely succeed at that anyway.

A depressing read, sure, but a terrific one as well. The main character Todd Hackett travels to Hollywood to paint and reflect, and the grotesques of the tinsel city are seen through his eyes during the course of the novel. Hackett still carries a romantic sensibility about him despite his surroundings, though he admits he knows little about the people he watches except that they have “come to California to die.” During the novel, Hackett is working on a painting he calls “The Burning of Los Angeles,” one that would make him a great success.

Other characters in the story include Faye Greener, the gorgeous aspiring actress/call girl whom all the characters would die for; Homer Simpson, a man who came to find his fortune, dissillusioned by the glamour and by Faye as well; Abe Kusich, a pesky dwarf in love with Faye; and Harry Greener, Faye’s dying father and failed character-actor.

All of these characters at one time were honest, innocent people, but when Hollywood rewards only the opposite of their values, their sense of direction changes and they are directed the wrong way. The book is a terrific revelation of the pathetic, sleazy parts of Hollywood- West is succinct, descriptive and loads the novel with symbolism. This was West’s most successful work, named as one of the Modern Library’s 100 best books of fiction.

“It is hard to laugh at the need for beauty and romance, no matter how tasteless, even horrible, the results of that are. But it is easy to sigh. Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.”
- The Day of the Locust

Other books by Nathanael West include:

The Dream Life of Balso Snell
Miss Lonelyhearts
A Cool Million

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