DrunksDustin Illingworth at Literary Hub:

The blackly comic energy of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts—its caustic ebullience, the strange buoyancy of its suffering—is a remarkably American achievement, a kind of death-dance capered on the corpse of a vividly rendered early 1930s Manhattan. In the darkening curl of the Depression, misery is the fulcrum of national experience, a dismal engine that purrs especially for West’s titular protagonist. As a newspaper advice columnist, he is privy to the secret despair of an American chorus: the lost, the young, the deformed, the forgotten. He sums up his existential crisis thusly:

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.

Perched between the towering anguish of his readers and the antic sophistry of his editor Shrike—a hatchet-faced Satan, the source of the novel’s negative radiance, and one of the finest creations in all of literature—Miss Lonelyhearts is inexorably crushed beneath the dynamic, native varieties of American despair.

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