Sunday, October 10, 2010

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts--

I am sixteen years old now and I dont know what to do and would appreciate it if you could tell me what to do. When I was a little girl it was not so bad because I got used to the kids on the block makeing fun of me, but now I would like to have boy friends like the other girls and go out on Saturday nites, but no boy will take me because I was born without a nose--although I am a good dancer and have a nice shape and my father buys me pretty clothes.

I sit and look at myself all day and cry. I have a big hole in the middle of my face that scares people even myself so I cant blame the boys for not wanting to take me out. My mother loves me, but she crys terrible when she looks at me.

What did I do to deserve such a terrible bad fate? Even if I did do some bad things I didnt do any before I was a year old and I was born this way. I asked Papa and he says he doesnt know, but that maybe I did something in the other world before I was born or that maybe I was being punished for his sins. I dont believe that because he is a very nice man. Ought I commit suicide?

Sincerely yours,


I’m not sure what to say about Miss Lonelyhearts; reading (and reviewing) it so soon after Day of the Locust has made a lot of my observations about this book a little redundant. Once again, it takes place in West’s grotesque, hopeless world, with another man, not particularly dissimilar from Locust’s Tod, trapped in circumstances beyond his control.

Miss Lonelyhearts, never given another name, is a man, an advice columnist for an unnamed paper. Started as a joke, the letters—several of them reprinted in full and packed with all manner of depressing minutae in the text—eventually become all Miss Lonelyhearts can think of. He tries to bury his sorrows, turning to religion, sex, bucolic getaways, but can find no relief. Unlike Tod, Miss Lonelyhearts has a soul, a true all-feeling soul, buried too deep for him to reach, even if he wanted to. As he sinks deeper into the morass of his job, his feelings rise to the top, until, during an unwanted tryst with an advice-seeker, he snaps, beats her up, and runs away. His crumbling emotional state (and, it is implied, possibly some physical ailments) lead him to a fevered vision, wherein he speaks to God, who promises to work as his editor and give him proper answers to those who seek his help. Unfortunately, the beaten woman’s husband, Doyle, with whom Miss Lonelyhearts earlier forms possibly the only sincere emotional connection in the entire novel, comes after him. There is violence, of course.

Miss Lonelyhearts is the disturbed fever dream of The Day of the Locust. There are loads of parallels, from Miss Lonelyhearts’s coworkers discussing well-deserved rapes they’ve heard about, to Doyle’s Homer Simpson-like breakdown, to everyone’s inability to make their world a better place. The difference is primarily one of tone: If The Day of the Locust is the world distorted in a funhouse mirror, Miss Lonelyhearts is the mirror itself. Everything is exaggerated, macabre, obscene. The letters, with their realistic depictions of people in desperate situations, are somehow less bleak than West’s hyper-real world, where rape is an acceptable dinner topic, everyone’s a fraud, and a revelation from God is just another way to get killed.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Your reviews have been really excellent recently. I particularly like the bit about the mirror. Also, how could you go through this whole review without mentioning Shrike, who is awesome?