On February 22, 2015, BBC Radio 3 aired a Sunday Feature centered on Nathanael West and his novel, The Day of the Locust. I was lucky enough to be included as a special guest. For all those interested, take a listen on the podcast. Enjoy.
Nathanael West at rest. This is a picture of Nat in the summer of 1931 at Viele Pond when he was at work on Miss Lonelyhearts (published in 1933). Nathaniel Rich at The Daily Beast just described the novel as "essential" to understanding America and The American Dream. Rich is writing a monthly piece on important American novels and what they say about us. Read more on Rich and West below.
Volume 1 Brooklyn is a multimedia project hell-bent on bridging any and all gaps between literature and other forms of high and low culture — be it music, art, politics, film, humor or a dynamic mix of all of those pursuits.
Founded in 2009, Vol. 1 is a website, an event production company and an indie publishing imprint dedicated to sharing literary culture with the masses.
Our motto: If you’re smart, you will probably like us.
WHAT DID THEY SAY:
Joe Winkler wrote today:
"Now Joe Woodward in his choppy, but ultimately compelling biography of West...makes a good case for the widespread contemporary relevance of West."
Winkler finds me "astute" and complains the book "opens too well."
The enterprise of translation has always interested me. As a young reader, of course, I read the canonized foreign “classics” of my time: the Russians, the French, the Spanish, the Central and South Americans. I read more Europeans than anything. I read no Asian literature. I read no African literature. Well, very, very little.
As I grew into a young writer, I was exposed to more literature in other languages—largely, it seemed, because my teachers found in foreign literature new literary forms to share. It seemed to all of us young writers that our contemporaries in other countries were somehow freer to experiment with plot and character, with lyric language than Americans.
Just this week, the 2012 fiction long list (25 titles) of the Best Translated Book Awards was announced. It includes books from 14 countries and 12 languages. The awards program is organized by “Three Percent,” a part of the University of Rochester translation program and Open Letter Press, also associated with the university. The finalists in fiction will be announced on April 10th in conjunction with the poetry finalists. The winners in both categories will be celebrated at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York City....
I'm pleased (actually beside myself) to report that Jay Parini, the noted writer and critic and editor of both The Norton Anthology of Autobiography and The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature has written a beautiful review in the February 2012 issue of Literary Review, London.
Jay Parini says of ALIVE INSIDE THE WRECK:
“In this fresh, elegant biography by Joe Woodward—the first in four decades—West comes alive, a strange young man on the prowl, a crazy fool, a fantasist.
“Alive Inside the Wreck seems to imitate, to a degree, the prose of West, with its short sentences and its neon-lit realism…Some of the criticism on display is quite remarkable, as when Woodward describes The Day of the Locust as “ a novel of displacement, of displaced people.
“This is a remarkably good and succinct biography, well worth reading. It adds considerably to our understanding of West, taking on the fabled machinery of Hollywood itself, which often seems more like a troubled state of mind than an actual place or industry.”
"Old age in America is a humorless state of spent energies—a time-desert laced with lost economic and political power and long hours in medical waiting rooms skimming back issues of National Geographic. Old age in America is a commercial loop stuck on the pros and cons of Medicare Part B and unmeasured time in wall-papered kitchens trying to get child-proof caps off orange prescription bottles. Old age in America is simply the loss of youth.
The American canon on old age is as unreliable and overstuffed as America itself. It does not contain the truth. Rarely, save an occasional AARP advertisement in a magazine or television pitch for “Boost,” the energy drink, do “old people” appear in media at all. When they do appear, they are most often interested in “eating right” and “exercising” and playing ball with their grandchildren in comfortable shoes and ironed khakis. There must be more!
The novel, right up to the end, was called The Cheated by West. It wasn't perfect, he realized, but nothing else seemed as true and right.
Certainly "cheated" fit Faye Greener. Faye, his heroine-grotesque, takes up the whole of chapter 3 and prepares us for one of the magnificent sequences in the book--Claude Estee's party.
"She was a tall girl with wide, straight shoulders and long, swordlike legs. Her neck was long, too, and columnar. Her face was much fuller than the rest of her body would lead you to expect and much larger. It was a moon face, wide at the cheek bones and narrow at the chin and brow. She wore her 'platinum' hair long, letting it fall almost to her shoulders in back...
"She was supposed to look drunk and she did, but not with alcohol.
"Her invitation wasn't to pleasure, but to struggle, hard and sharp, closer to murder than to love. If you threw yourself on her, it would be like throwing yourself from the parapet of a skyscraper. You would do it with a scream. You couldn't exactly rise again. Your teeth would be driven into your skull like nails into a pine board and your back would be broken.
"He managed to laugh at his language, but it wasn't a real laugh and nothing was destroyed by it."