The Day of the Locust


The year 1939, when Europe was going up in flames and America clung to the hope that it need not become part of a world at war, turned out to be a miracle moment for Los Angeles fiction, seeing the publication of “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler, John Fante’s “Ask The Dust,” and “The Day of the Locust” by Nathanael West (the latter just reissued in a new edition, along with “Miss Lonelyhearts,” by New Directions, $11.95), three books that distilled distinctly and in very different ways the city that was being written about, and have continued to dictate how Los Angeles is perceived today. Chandler reconfigured the noir map in a style still to be bettered and Fante’s bildungsroman showed a young man struggling in a dark, sunlit world that he nonetheless contrived to possess, but West’s book is the most merciless of the three, reflecting the anger, disappointment and violence that bubble and simmer beneath the city’s welcoming and glassy surface. The idea of Los Angeles as a site for apocalypse was already prevalent in the 1930s (Myron Brinig’s forgotten “The Flutter of an Eyelid” concludes with the city shearing away from the coastal shelf and cascading into the Pacific,) but West crystallized it.

more from Richard Rayner at the LA Times here.