Perry's Reviews > Miss Lonelyhearts

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
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Charged with Meaning; Lefty Leaning

"I don't really like to stop the show
But I thought that you might like to know
That the singer's going to sing a song
And he wants you all to sing along"
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," Lennon-McCartney

I wasn't nearly as enamored by this 1933 eighty-page novella, full of existential black humor, as the Yale prof/lit critic Harold Bloom, primarily because Nathanael West couldn't hide his contempt for all religion nor his scarlet leanings.

As the book begins, an NYC newspaper editor, aptly named "Shrike," assigns an unnamed male newspaper columnist (under the pseudonym "Miss Lonelyhearts") to write an advice column (similar in ilk to "Dear Abby"). Under the collective weight of the genuine agony and life's loads of the advice-seekers, Miss Lonelyhearts begins to suffer severe depression.

At after-hours gatherings, Shrike repeatedly hazes Miss Lonelyhearts, condemning his religion (and his affinity for art) as the "opiate of the masses" and jokes that Miss Lonelyhearts is "an idealist in collision with humanity."
“Art Is a Way Out. Do not let life overwhelm you. When the old paths are choked with the débris of failure, look for newer and fresher paths. Art is just such a path. Art is distilled from suffering.”
Miss Lonelyhearts, Nathanael West

Exacerbating Miss Lonelyhearts' depression is his conviction that his advice column is merely a farce perpetrated on the public. To ease his pain, he turns to drinking, religion, traveling with his fiancee', and an animalistic affair with Shrike's wife.

Miss L meets with a lady, at her insistence, who wrote that her poor crippled husband cannot satisfy her intimate needs. West leaves it ambiguous on whether Miss L's fornication with the lady was driven by a Messiah complex, an ephemeral apostasy, or a mixture of both.

This novella had the feel of a Marxist parable, the explanation of which would require my going far beyond the scope of a simple book review as well as into the bio of the author. That should tell you, at least, that its 80 pages are charged with meaning, latent and patent, which is why I give this novella 4 stars. All things considered, while the book is probably great for book club banter, it was not exactly a pleasure to read.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 18, 2015 – Finished Reading
January 27, 2016 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Robin (new)

Robin Perry, I had the same feelings about this novella, when I read it many years ago in university. Your review, on the other hand... is wonderful!


message 2: by Robin (new)

Robin BTW, I love the quote re: "Art is a Way Out." So true.


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