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Novels and Other Writings : The Dream Life of Balso Snell / Miss Lonelyhearts / A Cool Million / The Day of the Locust / Letters

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  308 ratings  ·  36 reviews
In this volume the Library of America offers the most complete literary portrait ever published of Nathanael West. Along with the four novels for which he is famous, this authoritative collection gathers his work in other genres, including stories, poetry, essays and plays, film scripts and treatments, and letters.

When West died in a California highway accident in 1940 at
...more
Hardcover, 829 pages
Published August 1st 1997 by Library of America (first published 1957)
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Start your review of Novels and Other Writings : The Dream Life of Balso Snell / Miss Lonelyhearts / A Cool Million / The Day of the Locust / Letters
Rick Slane
I read the 4 main works. I recommend them all except the first one to every mature American. Translating West seems to me almost impossible and even English readers from other cultures probably won't be able to appreciate this stuff. This is the darkest or most tragic humor I have found. I put West on the literary level of Hemingway & Fitzgerald. He died in an auto crash at 37 years of age. ...more
Greg Brozeit
I understand how some might give up on this volume after reading the first selection, The Dream Life of Balso Snell, which is more for people who like William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. But, don’t let it stop you from reading on, it would be a mistake. This collection is a fabulous journey.

Of the first four published novellas, A Cool Million stood out for me. It’s as though the Coen Brothers, Mark Twain and Freidrich Dürrenmatt got together to write a Horatio Alger story. It’s a fantastic piece of
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Michael
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Nobody
This is honestly some of the worst writing I've ever read.

Some parts of "Day of the Locust" were redeeming. For example the description and visualization of the apocalyptic painting that Tod Hackett is doing of the female lead character in the novel.

Most of West's other writings were pretty awful. "Cool Million" reminded me of the kind of pamphlets that fundamentalists try to force on people minding their own business on the city street. His two plays in the collection (one screenplay and one st
...more
Tosh
Sep 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Nathanael West was such an unique American writer. He was totally tuned into the world of European Surrealism, and it shows in his work. But it is also very American - and that was his strength or what made his work so unique, funny and wonderful. I love this man's work.
Randolph
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Awesome collection of West's fiction from his all too short life. Running the gamut from stark realism to the truly bizarre it shows the true range of West's fictional talent. Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locusts (avoid the dreadful film version) are the best of the lot.
C B
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an incredibly eccentric, wonderful literary voice West had. Only not giving it 5 stars because I am too stupid to make it through Balso Snell.
Bob Schuman
Sep 01, 2008 rated it liked it
By far one of the shortest books on the top 100 list (148 pages). Each of the 27 chapters were really little vignettes that were loosely connected to one another...the connection being how the main character (Tod Hackett) is going to get Fay Greener (Want-to-be actress) in bed. Throw in a dwarf, a cowboy, other random hollywood types and Homer Simpson (Could this be where the name really came from?) and you have a pretty funny book that was very descriptive and well written.
Inder
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Full disclosure: I only read "Miss Lonelyhearts," which is on the 1,001 Books to Read Before you Die list (which I half-heartedly attempt to read from).

WHOA GUYS, THIS IS SOME DARK, DARK SHIT.

Wikipedia calls it "black comedy." Wow. It takes a strong stomach to find any of this the least bit funny. Yes, there are some funny lines, but it is very wretched, sordid humor. To me it is further proof that post-WWI fiction is the darkest, bleakest, most nihilistic, and incidentally, most hateful and m
...more
Sam Crawley
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Watching a 1942 newspaper movie today You Can’t Escape Forever that featured the dominating editor and the ingenue girlfriend who screws up and is demoted to writing the advice column. This all reminded me West is one of my all time favorite authors. Miss Lonely Hearts was so poignant it’ll make you cry. The Dreamlife of Balso Snell is a metaphor of Dante (I think) where the hero travels throughout the alimentary canal of a horse. West only wrote three novels but wrote many screenplays before he ...more
David Mc Pherson
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Just my favourite writer.
Joyce
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant writer. Don't leave this planet without at least reading "Miss Lonelyhearts".
Ben
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
To Malcolm Cowley
May 11, 1939
Dear Malcolm:
Bennett Cerf sent me a copy of your note to him about "The Day of the Locust." It made me quite a bit happier to hear that you liked the first chapters. I hope you read the rest of it sometime because I think the first five or six chapters are the weakest.
Lately, I have been feeling even more discouraged than usual. The ancient bugaboo of my kind -- "why write novels?" -- is always before me. I have no particular message for a troubled world (except p
...more
Susan Emmet
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Haven't visited West in a while and was drawn to this complete set at John Merrill's. Was introduced to West by my college love many years ago.
"The Dream Life of Balso Snell" differs from the more political and apocalyptic other three. "Snell" is a surrealistic Divine Comedy with no Beatrice waiting in Heaven. Balso descends into the pit of himself, into the Trojan Horse, and meets a host of twisted characters en route in and out. Extraordinarily bitter tale it is.
"A Cool Million" tracks the sto
...more
Ian
Dec 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001-books
I first only read this for Miss Lonelyhearts, but got drawn in by West to read the other three pieces of long fiction he produced. I don't say novels because they are all fairly brief, especially The Dream Life of Balso Snell which is a Surrealist fantasy.
Miss Lonelyhearts stars a journalist who writes an advice column and is tortured by the plaintive cries for help of his readers and mocked by his boss, the loathsome Shrike. Unable to offer anything more than platitudes, his Christ-like sufferi
...more
Karen
Nov 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
I'd never read any Nathanael West (who wrote primarily in the 1930s) so I tried Day of the Locust. Why did I choose that particular novel? Because one of the characters is named Homer Simpson, of course. (In fact, Matt Groening, creator of the TV show The Simpsons, named his cartoon father after the book character. They're both rather dull-witted, but West's Simpson lacks the belligerence, cheating tendencies, fondness of alcohol and humor of his animated namesake.)

The story takes place in Holly
...more
S.D.
Oct 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
The novels of Nathaniel West revel in a moral fascination with the corrosive and corrupting influence of American decadence, as seen through the grotesque looking glass of mid-20th Century Los Angeles, that until the arrival of James Ellroy’s “L.A. Quartet” had few to equal their copasetic blend of style and theme. Like Ellroy, West fixates on the failure of myth – but West is predominately a satirist, and where Ellroy hammers out bleak epics like a pugnacious middleweight, West spars like a spr ...more
Darran Mclaughlin
Sep 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american, modernist
I have had the collected novels of Nathanael West on my shelf for years and I finally thought I would treat myself and read it. It wasn't worth the wait. I was under the impression that he was one of the great, under-appreciated cult writers deserving of a place in the pantheon besides his contemporaries such as Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Faulkner and Dos Passos. In fact he is a decidedly minor writer. Balso Snell and a Cool Million are not worth anyone's time. Miss Lonelyhearts is a brisk, bleak, ...more
Elliott
Sep 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is from the Wikipedia entry for "The Dream Life of Balso Snell": "a young man's immature and cynical search for meaning in a series of dreamlike encounters inside the entrails of the Trojan Horse." Yeah, you read that right. It mixes erotic and scatological references with religious and literary allusions. Entertaining but weird. "Miss Lonelyhearts" exhibits the same brutal honesty and desperate compassion as West's "The Day of the Locust" but it's more visceral and lacks that novel's restr ...more
Eric Cecil
Jan 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who can shit
"Day of the Locust" is one of my top three favorite books of all-time. Too bad I lent it to some girl who will never give it back to me. Never seen the movie, either.
Richard Schave
Miss Lonelyhearts & the Day of the Locust by Nathanael West (1962) ...more
Lane Wilkinson
Jun 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
currently reading the epistles and fragments that make up the last half of this wonderful anthology.
Zack
Aug 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Nathanael West is one of my favorite authors. Please read part of an article I wrote about him here: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-83... ...more
Bob
Nov 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
The Day of the Locust is just perfect.
Kitty
Jan 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Feel like I will constantly be "currently-reading" this book
Mary
Nov 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: from-the-library
I really only read Miss Lonelyhearts, The Day of the Locust and his sad, pleading missives to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Aaron Jacobs
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book has pretty much everything West wrote. A fantastic collection. He was such a great writer it's hard to believe he couldn't breakthrough during his life.
Nathan
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
The suffocating effect of accumulative despair.

The Day of the Locust deserves 5 stars, plus a bonus for providing the "Homer Simpson."
Jan
Sep 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Loved Miss Lonelyhearts. Found A Cool Million like an updated Candide. Day of the Locust failed to engage. Couldn't finish Balso Snell. Shucks, what an ill-mannered broad, etc, etc.
Rick
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Never going to finish. Found West's misanthropy to be blunt and uninteresting.
Nancy
Sep 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read:

The Dream Life of Balso Snell

Miss Lonelyhearts
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Born Nathanael von Wallenstein Weinstein to prosperous Jewish parents, from the first West set about creating his own legend, and anglicising his name was part of that process. At Brown University in Rhode Island, he befriended writer and humourist S. J. Perelman (who later married his sister), and started writing and drawing cartoons. As his cousin Nathan Wallenstein also attended Brown, West too ...more

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