I felt as though I’d clicked on TCM and was watching a film with one of those actors whose name you can’t recall, yet you know you’ve seen him in…oh, what’s the name of that other movie? I zipped through The Day of the Locust in no time, feeling as though I’d read it before, yet knowing I had not.
It’s Hollywood in the ’30’s with a cast of characters as unique as those found there today; retired vaudevillians, dwarf bookies, cock fighting cowboys, wannabe actors and of course, the femme fatale. Witness the madness that is Hollywood through drunken eyes, dying sighs and men driven mad by an out a reach beauty. West was clearly disillusioned after moving to Hollywood to write scripts, but that disappointment manifested itself with the publication of The Day of the Locust.
Tod Hackett, the novel’s central character most closely resembles West himself. After working for only 3 months in Hollywood, he acquires an unusual assortment of acquaintances and quickly sees their downfalls as precursors to his own ruin. And he falls for the girl he’ll never have. Clue-She tells him he’s not rich enough and not really too good looking either. To this he takes no offense…
The much sought after, Faye Greener, believes she will be a famous Hollywood star. Okay, so she’s only 17 and hasn’t had her dreams shattered yet so we must give her some leeway. She claims to want a rich and handsome man, yet she is always surrounded by those she deems unworthy. So why is she not elsewhere? Maybe she’s not as clueless as she behaves.
The transplanted hotel accountant from Iowa, Homer Simpson (yes, that is his name) is in Hollywood on doctor’s orders. His life is ordered and completely uneventful until Faye’s father shows up at his door peddling silver polish. Once Faye steps in, it is clear she has found a whipping post. Homer takes Faye in after her father dies and waits on her as though she were a guest at a hotel rather than someone down on her luck. She then moves her male friends into the garage with parties and cockfights on the agenda. Let’s just say, things don’t end well.
Only those who still have hope can benefit from tears. When they finish, they feel better. But to those without hope, like Homer, whose anguish is basic and permanent, no good comes from crying. Nothing changes for them. They usually know this, but still can’t help crying.
Would I love to hang with a man whose circle included William Carlos Williams and Dashiell Hammett? Why yes, I would. West captured the desperation of those who travelled to California with dreams that were quickly smothered in The Day of the Locust. I’d love to talk with him about his time in New York and ask if he could share any tips he got from his pals.
My rating for The Day of the Locust is an 8 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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