Sunday, March 1, 2009

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts--

I am writing to you for my little sister Gracie because something awfull hapened to her and I am afraid to tell mother about it. I am 15 years old and Gracie is 13 and we live in Brooklyn. Gracie is deaf and dumb and biger than me but not very smart on account of being deaf and dumb. She plays on the roof of our house and d ont go to school except to deaf and dumb school twice a week on tuesdays and thursdays. Mother makes her play on the roof because we dont want her to get run over as she aint very smart. Last week a man came on the roof and did something dirty to her. She told me about it and I dont know what to do as I am afraid to tell mother on account of her being lible to beat Gracie up. I am afraid that Gracie is going to have a baby an I listened to her stomack last night for a long time to see if I could hear the baby but I couldn't. If I tell mother she will beat Gracie up awful because I am the only one who loves her and last time when she tore her dress they loked her in the closet for 2 days and if the boys on the blok hear about it they will say dirty things like they did on Peewee Conors sister the time she got caught in the lots. So please what would you do if the same hapened in your family.

Yours truly,
Harold S.

Miss Lonelyhearts receives hundreds of letters like this every week--it's his job to respond to them for his newspaper column. At first, he took the job because it seemed easy and the other newspapermen treated it like a joke, but now he finds that the letters, which detail an amazing panorama of human misery, are haunting him and pushing him to the brink of an existential breakdown. To make matters worse, he is hounded by his editor, Shrike, who torments him with elaborate jokes at the expense of his religiosity and inner turmoil. "The Miss Lonelyhearts," says shrikes, "are the priests of America," but Miss Lonelyhearts is a priest who lacks any answers to the question of why evil exists in the world. Miss Lonelyhearts looks to art, love, sex, and religion to temper his misery, but finds that he cannot escape the horrible emptiness of the letters.

Eventually he receives a long letter from a woman whose husband is a cripple, asking him to meet her in person. The meeting turns out to be a booty call, and later on the situation is complicated when Miss Lonelyhearts receives a similar letter from the woman's crippled husband. When the women tries to force Miss Lonelyhearts to have sex with her again, he beats her up in rage, and the husband returns in anger, bringing the story to a violent end.

West was by trade a film writer, and has only four novels to his name. I had only read The Day of the Locust, which is fantastic, and this is significantly stranger than that--many of Miss Lonelyhearts' experiences are feverish and dreamlike. The world here is grotesque in the same fashion as Tod's painting in Locust, as if what had been contained by the artist's mind in that book has broken loose in this one to infect the universe. Apparently Locust is the most ordinary of West's four books, which include a book that prominent critic Arthur Ross once called "a sneer in the bathroom mirror at Art." Hilarious. Miss Lonelyhearts, however, is a freaky and horrifying little thing, and at less than 60 pages, only a little bit longer than this review.

1 comment:

Nihil Novum said...

This sounds really cool. Also, I feel that this review needs a comment.