Saturday, March 21, 2009

Five best novels from the Great Depression

Peter Conn is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. His publications include The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America, 1898-1917 (Cambridge University Press, 1983; paperback editions, 1988 and 2008), and Literature in America (Cambridge University Press, 1989), which was a main selection of Associated Book Clubs (UK). Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography (Cambridge, 1996; Paperback 1998), was chosen as a "New York Times Notable Book," was included among the five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle award in biography, and received the Athenaeum Award. His new book is The American 1930s: A Literary History.

Conn named a five best list of novels from the Great Depression for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
The Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West
Random House, 1939

The best novel ever written about Hollywood appeared in the last years of the Depression. A young artist, Todd Hackett, has come to the West Coast to paint the legions of bored and lonely men and women who migrate to California in pursuit of a dream they never find. The studios' celluloid fantasies mock the deprivation of the country throughout the 1930s, providing escapist entertainment in the midst of despair. The novel is punctuated with scenes of violence -- drunken brawls, bloody cockfights, sexual assault -- that unfold in the glow of Southern California's legendary warmth and sunshine. In the climactic scene, a murderous riot provoked by a movie premiere provides a "real" counterpart to Todd's painting, "The Burning of Los Angeles."
Read about Number One on Conn's list.

The Day of the Locust also figures among Jonathan Evison's list of books about the Spirit of California.

--Marshal Zeringue