Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Five best tales of dislocation

Jerome Charyn is the author of Johnny One-Eye, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, and The Seventh Babe, a novel about a white third baseman on the Red Sox who also played in the Negro Leagues.

His latest book is Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil.

For the Wall Street Journal, Charyn came up with a list of the five best tales of dislocation. One title on the list:
The Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West (1939)

Novels about Hollywood rarely work. Few novelists have been able to find the right quotient to deal with the apocalyptic vividness of the place—but Nathanael West is one of them. "The Day of the Locust" is a masterpiece of disaffection. Even the moon over Hollywood "looked like an enormous bone button." West's Hollywood is ruled by rapacious desire. Tod Hackett, the novel's hero, is in love with Faye Greener, a gorgeous Hollywood extra. Staring at a photograph of her in a provocative pose, he realizes that "her invitation wasn't to pleasure, but to struggle, hard and sharp, closer to murder than to love." This Hollywood is not a land of movie stars and moguls, but of bit players, hookers, dwarfs, and dying vaudevillians and their daughters, who all blend into a ravenous mob, ready to "grab and rend." Yet the novel still manages to delight and hold us in thrall with its startling sense of detail. West is like a cunning snake charmer as he describes a cockfight in a garage or an army of extras moving across a papier-mâché mountain in a Napoleonic swirl.
Read about another book on the list.

The Day of the Locust is on Jane Ciabattari's list of the five best novels on Hollywood, Jonathan Kellerman's list of the top ten LA noir novels, and Peter Conn's list of the five best novels from the Great Depression; it also appears on Jonathan Evison's list of books about the Spirit of California and John Mullan's list of ten of the best riots in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue