Saturday, March 13, 2010

The 5 best novels on Hollywood

Jane Ciabattari is the author of the critically acclaimed short-story collection, Stealing the Fire.

For The Daily Beast, she named a five best list of novels on Hollywood. One title on the list:
The Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West

The fourth and last novel by this acerbic American original is a mashup of grotesques, sketched from his experience as a Hollywood scriptwriter during the 1930s.

West’s ingĂ©nue narrator in the novel is Tod Hackett, a young artist from the East who is secretly painting “The Burning of Los Angeles” while learning costume design and set work. Tod’s first impression of L.A. sets the tone: “Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.” Among the strange creatures he encounters as neighbors in the down-at-the-heels San Bernardino Arms: Abe, a dwarf and depraved bookie; Faye Greener, a callous Hollywood starlet; her father Harry, a would-be comic who peddles Miracle Polish to support his impossible dreams; and Homer Simpson, a retired businessman who looks like he came to California to die (his “fever eyes and unruly hands” were rendered indelibly by Donald Sutherland in the 1975 film).

The explosive finale, when demonic fans run amok at a movie premiere, is hair-raising in its viciousness. Alfred Kazin dubbed West “the most despairing of Hollywood novelists.” The assessment still fits.

Nathanael West and his wife, Eileen McKenney, who inspired My Sister Eileen, died in a car crash on December 22, 1940, while driving back to Hollywood from Mexico for their friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s funeral.
Read about the other novels on Ciabattari's list.

The Day of the Locust also figures among Jonathan Evison's list of books about the Spirit of California and is one of Peter Conn's five best novels from the Great Depression.

Also see Whit Stillman's five best list of books about Hollywood and Robert Osborne's five best list of books about Hollywood.

--Marshal Zeringue