Do you like speakeasies? Dark comedy? Morally ambiguous protagonists? Then this is the book for you!
In honor of Independent Bookstore Day, I decided to review one of the books I recently purchased from my favorite indie bookstore in the area (Recycled Books Denton).
When I first received my "mystery book bag", I scanned through all the book jackets and Miss Lonelyhearts
by Nathanael West caught my eye. The premise seemed promising and the positive comparisons to the works of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner’s work convinced me that this was the first book of my new haul that I had to read.
The cocktail I paired with this read is the "Highball," which is featured approximately 5 times throughout the story. Here's the recipe so you can whip up your own Highball cocktail:
1 oz. Whiskey
5 oz. of chilled tonic water
Twist of lemon peel
1. In a glass, add ice.
2. Pour the chilled tonic water along the side of the glass so as not to melt the ice too quickly, then add the 1 oz. of whiskey.
3. Cut a slice of lemon, separate the peel from the pulp, and shape into a twist for garnish.
***I squeezed some of the lemon juice into the glass as well for added flavor
After reading the clever writing, I wondered how I’d never heard of the author, Nathanael West.
Since his short novel, Miss Lonelyhearts,
was published in 1933, I immediately thought about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Turns out that West shared a bizarre connection with his contemporary, Fitzgerald.
West was 8 years younger than Fitzgerald and they died only one day after one another.
Sadly, West died relatively unknown and without making it big in Hollywood as he had hoped. It was only after his death, that Miss Lonelyhearts and “Day of the Locust” were praised for their brilliance.
The story follows our protagonist, who is the writer responsible for the newspaper column titled “Miss Lonelyhearts.”
Summary & Analysis
West summarizes the story perfectly in the context of the novel itself: "A man is hired to give advice to the readers of a newspaper. The job is a circulation stunt and the whole staff considers it a joke… but after several months at it, the joke begins to escape him. He sees that the majority of the letters are profoundly humble pleas for moral and spiritual advice, that they are the inarticulate expressions of genuine suffering. He also discovers that his correspondents take him seriously. For the first time in his life, he is forced to examine the values by which he lives. This examination shows him that he is the victim of the joke and not its perpetrator."
Our protagonist, only known throughout the story as Miss Lonelyhearts, views this assignment as a joke, but as time goes on he feels for the women writing and seeking his guidance about their tragic and unjust circumstances. Miss Lonelyhearts spends the entire story at direct conflict with the masculine characters and their language and treatment about women. One line in particular perfectly sums up the main character and his struggle between his sympathy for women and what is apparently his nature: “Like a dead man, only friction could make him warm or violence make him mobile.” Miss Lonelyhearts spends the story either reading the desperate letters from women seeking advice or instigating violence against other characters (both male and female).
It’s a quick read at only 57 pages and the material is at-once comical, dark, and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this story and based on this read I'm definitely planning to explore more of Mr. West's books.
In honor of Indie Bookstore Day, check out ways to support your local shops during this difficult time: http://www.indiebookstoreday.com/
If you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, here are some shops I can recommend: