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am 27. Januar 2014
“The Day of the Locust” von Nathanael West sollte ich im Rahmen eines Kurses lesen, der sich mit amerikanischer Literatur von 1900 bis 1945 beschäftigt. Unter anderen Umständen wäre ich vermutlich auf dieses Buch, das 1939 erstmals erschien, nie gestoßen, obwohl es auf amazon in einem Atemzug mit „Unter Null“ von Bret Easton Ellis genannt wird, eines meiner Lieblingsbücher.

Wests Werk wird zu den Hollywood-Romanen gezählt, da die gesamte Handlung in dieser Glitzer- und Glamourwelt spielt.
Der Leser begleitet den Maler Tod Hackett, der in Amerikas Filmhauptstadt noch relativ neu ist und dort als Set Designer arbeitet. Er ist hoffnungslos dem Filmsternchen Faye Greener verfallen, um deren Aufmerksamkeit er permanent buhlt, obwohl er selbst erkennt, wie aussichtslos und selbstzerstörerisch seine Bemühungen sind. Hierbei steht er in Konkurrenz mit verschiedenen anderen Männern die seine Leidenschaft für Faye teilen, neigt die junge Möchtegern-Schauspielerin doch dazu, sich ausschließlich mit Menschen zu umgeben, die ihr Selbstwertgefühl steigern und sie bestätigen. Tod beginnt, sich immer weiter in der Welt Hollywoods zu verlieren, bis er schließlich ganz von ihr verschluckt wird, symbolisiert durch seine versehentliche Involvierung in Ausschreitungen anlässlich einer Filmpremiere.

„The Day oft the Locust“ gehört zu den Büchern, deren Symbolgehalt sich der Leser bewusst machen muss, um ihre Bedeutung zu verstehen. Während der Lektüre war mir das nicht klar, wodurch meine Bewertung weniger positiv ausfällt. Erst durch die Besprechung des Buches innerhalb meines Kurses eröffnete sich mir die Intension, die Nathanael West vermutlich verfolgte. Zwischen der Realität an der Oberfläche und der Realität unter der Oberfläche besteht eine sehr hohe Spannung, nichts ist das, was es auf den ersten Blick zu sein scheint.
Im Mittelpunkt stehen die verschiedenen Charaktere, die Handlung ist nur sekundär von Belang. Auch spielt potentielle Sympathie für die Figuren kaum eine Rolle, da diese komplett überspitzt und grotesk dargestellt sind. Wests Absicht war nicht, dass der Leser seine Charaktere mag, sondern dass ihm bewusst wird, was sie symbolisieren.
Das zentrale Thema des Buches ist die Entwertung von Persönlichkeit und Individualität, wie sie in Hollywood regelrecht erzwungen wird. Der Mensch wird auf seine vermarktbaren Eigenschaften reduziert, daher sind auch Wests Figuren degenerierte Individuen. Am deutlichsten ist dies am Beispiel des Homer Simpson zu sehen, der am Ende der Geschichte nicht einmal mehr in der Lage ist zu sprechen. Er hatte von Beginn an keine Eigenschaften oder Fähigkeiten, die für die Filmindustrie von Wert gewesen wären, folglich wurde er von ihr verschlungen, durchgekaut und das, was von ihm übrig blieb wieder ausgespuckt. Ein ähnliches Schicksal ereilt Tod, der jedoch im Gegensatz zu Homer für die Welt des Films brauchbar ist und den für ihn vorgesehenen Platz einnimmt, indem er die Distanz des Künstlers aufgibt und zu einem Teil von ihr wird. Eine nähere Betrachtung verlangt auch der Titel des Buches selbst. Übersetzt bedeutet er „Der Tag der Heuschrecke“ und man kommt dementsprechend nicht umhin, die biblische Assoziation zu bemerken. Heuschrecken sind in der Bibel eine allesverschlingende Plage; in Bezug auf den Roman legt das die Interpretation nahe, dass die Figuren nicht nur Opfer, sondern auch Täter sind. Hollywood ist nur das, wozu es durch Menschen wie Tod, Homer oder Faye gemacht wurde. Sie wurden verschlungen, um selbst zu verschlingen.

Die Bewertung von „The Day of the Locust“ fiel mir schwer, da mir zwar (mittlerweile) einerseits sein symbolischer Wert bewusst ist, ich aber andererseits trotzdem nicht begeistert von dem Werk bin. Anders als „Unter Null“ bietet es dem Leser keinerlei moralisches Zentrum; es gibt keinen Clay, der deutlich macht, wie stumpf, flach und degeneriert Hollywoods Charaktere sind. Ich kann nicht behaupten, dass ich besonders viel aus dem Buch mitgenommen habe, obwohl die Thematik heute wohl aktueller ist denn je. Ich werde daher keine Empfehlung für „The Day of the Locust“ aussprechen. Wer es lesen möchte, soll das tun, sich jedoch darüber im Klaren sein, dass die Dinge, die West nicht schildert, die nur zwischen den Zeilen stehen, den eigentlichen Wert des Romans darstellen.
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am 25. Juni 2000
Some of the depravities of Hollywood and LA depicted here seem slightly quaint today (now that the area has had sixty years to surpass West's vision), but this book still hits the mark with a remarkable frequency. When West is writing at his best he functions as a baleful documentor of what would grow into the LA we all know and love. Cults, pseudoreligions, celebrity-worship, crowds, riots, child actors, hodgepodge architecture, and an industry dedicated to the falsification of reality: all of them are here, and West's writing on these afflictions still retains force today. Ultimately, West sees LA as an environment in which no human goodness can survive-a kind of moral black hole-and this is certainly reflected in the novel's array of characters, who are largely a batch of self-centered xenophobes. Even Tod, ostensibly the novel's "hero," tries (more than once) to summon up the courage to simply rape Faye. In other words, this book won't be a big hit with people who use "I didn't like any of the characters" as a criticism: a shame, because there's a reasonably good study of human desperation to be found here, and West's focus on how certain environments and cultures exacerbate that desperation is still profoundly relevant to our own day. A quick read, not very difficult, dense, or lyrical, but a fine addition to the "literature" on LA.
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am 29. April 2000
I've read all of West's other novels - The Dream Life of Balso Snell, A Cool Million, Miss Lonelyhearts - and all three seemed to miss something that is hard for me to explain. A little two-dimensional, a little hollow. Neither the characters nor the novels themselves seemed to be totally fleshed out. But The Day of the Locust is different. And ultimately I think it is on this novel that West's reputation will either rise or fall.
This book will really live with you long after you've read it. I can easily bring to mind that spectacular cockfight (a fine bit of descriptive writing), Faye's teasing, Harry Greener, the midget, the scene in the nightclub when the cross-dresser sings, and that final horrific scene when the riot breaks out in LA. You can skip West's other novels and you won't be very deprived, but The Day of the Locust is not to be missed.
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am 9. März 2000
This book is as relevent today as it was in the thirties...maybe even more so. Why do people flock to California, "the land of sunshine and oranges? Once there they discover that sunshine isn't enough. They get tired of the oranges, even of avocado pears and passion fruit. Nothing happens. They don't know what to do with their time. They haven't the mental equipment for pleasure...there boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize they've been tricked and burn with resentment...the sun is a joke. Oranges can't titillate their jaded pallets. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing." Brilliant stuff that captures the discontent of newcomers to Califonia and specifically jollywood. The joke that Californian's are flakes and freaks is reflected not in the natives but those from elsewhere seeking more and more sensual satisfaction. A timeless book.
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am 28. Juli 1998
I am so glad this book has been published with a pretty cover. That old black and white one was so creepy I'm sure a lot of people passed it by owing to the judge-a-book-by-its-cover syndrone. "The Day of the Locust" is the best reflection of LA noir that I have read. It is just wonderful and the characters are pretty tragic. When we had the riots and I saw the city burning I could not help but think of this book and its haunting prophecy. If you're hemming and hawing about what to read on your summer vacation snap this one up right away, but don't expect sunshine and roses. Well, actually there is sunshine seeing as how it's in Los Angeles. I'm sorry N. West had to die so soon. He was a #$%^ good writer.
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am 7. August 1997
This conveniently thrifty Nathanael West
collection sat on my bookshelf for a few weeks,
and I kept taking peeks at it. It just kept
looking at me. I gave in to this seduction
eventually and read Miss Lonelyhearts (this was a
few weeks ago, and I still haven't read Day of
the Locust). Most New Directions paperbacks are
pretty ugly (sue me, I'm a jacket admirer), and
this one is too, but in a very compelling way.
But the novel is a million times more so. I'd read
a bit about it before, and knew that both Flannery
O'Connor and F. Scott Fitzgerald were admirers of
West's, and the premise sounded like my kind of
book, so I couldn't help working myself into a fit
about it. This was a rare instance for me --
generally when I'm excited about reading a book
beforehand, it's a let down, usually not because
it's a poor book, but because my expectations
were too high. But nope, not with Miss
Lonelyhearts. Yes, okay, so it's a black comedy,
yes it's an "absurdist" work of art, but not in
a juvenile or self-conscious way (ahem, ahem,
Salvador Dali). It works better than others
because it doesn't occur to you that it's dead
serious until you're thinking about it later in
the middle of the night fighting insomnia. While
reading, you're too busy snortin' and guffawin'
to give a good god damn about its "relevance" or
its "theme". But it is a novel to be taken
seriously, even if it is laugh-out-loud hilarious
and if it's as accessible as a glass of milk. I'm
tempted to give away some of the more dreadful
or ridiculous parts, but I won't, just anticipate
reading some over the top Dear Abby letters and
a brilliant and horrifying book wrapped around
them.
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am 19. Mai 2000
Short and easy to read novel depicting the fringes of society. The characters are all misfits and hanger-on's seeking miraculous cures from their failings by basking in the sunshine and glitz of Hollywood.
The most beleivable character is an untalented actress and part time prostitute who drives men insane.
The story seemed a bit unreal to me but then so is Hollywood.
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am 30. November 1997
Not necessarily recommended to those who shy away from the bleaker perspectives, but these are great stories. _The Day of the Locust_ is set in film making L.A. of the 30's(?) and the main character, Homer Simpson, does not exactly fit in. Because of this, his adventures bring out many of the oddities and illnesses of the culture. You feel that even though he can't express his situation and environment, his subconscious is somehow in tune with it.
_Miss Lonelyhearts_ was also written in the 30's, I think, although I can't really recall the exact setting. Miss Lonelyhearts is a newspaperman drawn to self-abuse and melancholy swings and his job writing the daily advice column under the pseudonym of the title provides plenty of 'food for the soul,' so to speak. (Boy, that sure sounds like a back-of-jacket blurb. Oh well.)
Both stories are pretty short. I'm a slow reader that rarely reads the same book twice (there's just so much else out there), but I reread these both recently in a day and thoroughly enjoyed them again.
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am 11. Oktober 1999
I had a hard time trying to decide on my rating for Miss Lonelyhearts. I liked it a lot, but in the end, I have a hard time figuring out what it all meant. The book worked on as a slice of life tale, or as an introduction into the mind of the main character (and the author?). However, when I complete a novel, I like to ruminate on the driving message behind the tale, and in this instance, I just could not locate one.
Lack of an overall message notwithstanding, I was hooked on this story from the first chapter. Like The Great Gatsby, this novel is an excercise in brevity. It says what it has to say and draws the curtain on the tale.
This book is not for you if you shy from the baser things in life. If you buy your bedding based on the threadcount, you're probably too tender for this hard-hitting novel of life on the edge. However, if you're as comfortable sleeping on the couch or the floor as you are in a bed, then you'll feel right at home as you read this book.
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am 22. November 1998
This book is not for the weak of heart, nor the weak of mind. Be prepared to engage all of your senses in a roller coaster through hell, through the depression, through all the pain that one can possibly feel. This book is a tumult of emotion, a book in which the main characters are void of feelings, and the reader in turn emotes for them. Be prepared to cry, and to laugh at the obscenities within the letters. Be prepared to feel the guilt and the pain that accompanies the laughter, and the pity that sets in long after the last chapter has been closed. Miss Lonelyhearts himself is the guidance to his pathetic audience's salvation, and his opposition, Shrike (the editor) plays the devil's advocate. In a fit of freedom, it is only Miss Lonelyhearts who can tear away from the pain leaving Shrike in the dust. The reader becomes Miss Lonelyhearts himself. And I must say, it is a position that the entire world should be placed in, if even for a moment.
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