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West, Nathanael

(US 1903–40)

Born in New York (real name, Nathan Wallenstein Weinstein), West was the original loner of contemporary American fiction, his work too savage and bleakly despondent—and too fantastical—to gain wide appeal during the Depression. His most accomplished novel, The Day of the Locust (1939), focuses on the lonely misfits drawn by the golden glitter of Hollywood, whose unrequited dreams of fame and success lead to a frenzy of hatred and self-destruction. Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) is the story of a cynical hack journalist hired to write an agony column, but who then finds himself stricken by the despair of these sad, empty lives; a short novel of compressed poetic power. A Cool Million (1934) is a crude, all-out assault on the myth of America as the land of opportunity, while in The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931) the hero takes an allegorical time-trip through western culture and finds it all a pitiful sham. West was ahead of his time, which is perhaps the reason why his entire literary output earned him little more than a thousand dollars. Eight months after his marriage, he and his wife were killed in a car crash.

Flannery O'Connor, J. P. Donleavy, Joseph Heller. See UNITED STATES OF AMERICA  TH

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Tr-Z)