The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Talented artist Tod Hackett has relocated to Los Angeles where he is working as a movie set designer. Tod develops an infatuation for Faye – a beautiful, blonde and brazen aspiring actress, and sometime call girl. When her father, a vaudevillian reduced to selling silver polish door-to-door, dies of a heart-attack, Faye goes to live with Homer Simpson, a kind-hearted, clumsy, middle-aged man, who dotes on her. There is also a belligerent and bad-tempered actor dwarf, a handsome and sullen down-on-his-luck cowboy called Earle, his Mexican friend Miguel, and an obnoxious kid star.
Published in 1939, The Day of the Locust is a short, plotless and poignant novel with a surreal aspect that is prescient in its prediction of the Hollywood-obsessed society of today, with its fixation on celebrity and image. This is a world of empty promises and broken dreams for the book’s disparate characters, most notably Tod and Homer, for whom materialistic, vapid and fickle Faye’s titillations lead only to frustration and disappointment.
The book’s subject matter, its author’s turn of phrase and the vivid descriptions, most memorably of a cockfight, appealed to this reader.