West, Nathanael

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

West, Nathanael

Nathanael West, 1903–40, American novelist, whose real name was Nathan Weinstein, b. New York City, grad. Brown Univ., 1924. An innovative, highly original author, West revealed the sterility and grotesqueness underlying the American dream; his vision has profoundly influenced subsequent writers. After spending two years in Paris, he worked as a hotel manager in New York. His first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931), is a garish satire that foreshadowed the work to follow. Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), his most successful novel, relates the painful life of a columnist for the lovelorn whose misguided priestliness leads him to a tragic and ironic involvement with his suffering correspondents. West also edited and wrote for several magazines and in 1935 moved to Hollywood, where he became a prolific scriptwriter. A Cool Million (1934) was West's bitter indictment of a materialistic world. His last novel and the book often called his masterpiece, The Day of the Locust (1939), presents a gallery of horrifying misfits living in a vacuous, surreal Hollywood atmosphere. West was not a commercial success in his own time, but his popularity rose after his premature death at 37 in an automobile accident. The Complete Works of Nathanael West was published in 1957.

See biographies by J. Martin (1970) and M. Meade (2010); studies by R. Reid (1967), J. F. Light (2d ed. 1971), I. Malin (1972), K. Widmer (1982), R. E. Long (1985), H. Bloom, ed. (1986), A. Wisker (1990), B. Siegel, ed. (1994), and J. Veitch (1997).

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