On December 21, 1940, Francis Scott Fitzgerald was flipping through the new issue of a Princeton alumni magazine while nibbling on a candy bar when heavy pressure on his chest made him stand up and clutch the mantelpiece. An instant later he collapsed, dead. The next day, Nathanael West, author of the first novel that blew up Hollywood and turned dreams into nightmares, hurried back to California, distraught over the death of his friend, skipped a stop and he also suddenly said goodbye to the world and to his brilliant but battered career as a writer. He had just published the novel that would make it a classic, lobster dayrecently recovered in Spanish by Hermida Editores with a new translation by José Luis Piquero.
West, born in 1904 in New York in a family of Lithuanian Jews, is the least known member of the so-called Lost Generation. The guy whose absurd and laconic, tender and sordid imported surrealism—three months in Paris were enough for him to distill Rabelais and the Russian genius Nikolai Gógol—represents both the pinnacle of American modernism and his first step in another direction: that of postmodernism. debunker and his army of clueless losers. lobster day precedes even the monumental and recent ant world, the first novel by Charlie Kaufman (Barrett), an x-ray, from a questioned self, of the end of all American dreams. And Homer Simpson himself.
“When I was in high school, I wrote a novel starring a guy named Homer Simpson. he had read lobster day and I had been fascinated by its main character, who had that name. Years later, when I devised The Simpson, I thought it was a good idea to rescue him ”, Matt Groening has once said about how the father of the television and irreverent yellow family came to be exactly as he is. Endearingly ridiculous, the Homer Simpson of lobster day is an accountant who, for years, has worked in a New York hotel like the hotel where West himself worked, Kenmore Hall, the place where Dashiell Hammet ended up the maltese falconand to whom his doctor recommends the California sun to cure a gloomy pneumonia.
Once there, in a ‘Lynchian’ Hollywood before Lynch —the film director is also among those who found meaning in what they saw in West’s novel— full of bizarre losers—a set designer who paints pictures in which Los Angels burned to the ground, a clown selling homemade polish, a midget gangster, an aspiring actress unable to pass as an extra signing autographs—Homer Simpson sits in a lawn chair with an open book on his lap and concentrates on his hands, which seem to have a life of their own and know much more than him. Homer is afraid of everything – he is afraid of the streets when it gets dark, he is afraid of anyone who knocks on the door of the house, he is afraid of his own hands – and he never knows what to do.
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If the novel drew the first cannibalistic Hollywood and combined the American dream with the American nightmare —the times of the cinematographic boom and the collapse of the Stock Market and the worst economic and social crisis in the United States—, and brutally denounced the abuse of power of the industry on women —of Faye Greener, the aspiring actress, producers and bosses of the sector take advantage and the fantasies she generates in the boy she likes are also macabre sexual fantasies—, placing Homer at the center Simpson inaugurated the idea of the man blank, or the loser who doesn’t know he’s lost, the goofy reverse of another classic: Ignatius J. Reilly, star of The conjuing of the ceciuosby John Kennedy Toole.
To the brainwashing of a corrupt society that takes refuge in the apparent —the cinema is in lobster day a poisonous and monstrous catalyst— violence and hatred are added, which have even built literary careers like that of Chuck Palahniuk, who confesses that lobster day It is the novel that he has read the most times and one of the three that have shaped his very peculiar way of reflecting on the world. The heartless and cold, unfeeling Hollywood of less than zero by Bret Easton Ellis is also anticipated by West in some way. And Joan Didion reformulated, even more from within, the self-destructiveness of the system for women in As the game comesconsidered At the time, the novel that most devastatingly attacked Hollywood since lobster day.
The gas station that is actually a cover for an actor’s male brothel in broad daylight in the TV series Hollywood, by the prolific Ryan Murphy, set just a couple of years after everything that happens in lobster day, is also reflected in Nathanael West’s novel, only in this one the prostitutes are actresses and it is directed by an actress who does not hesitate to offer herself to her best clients. Her condition of b-side of other classics of the time, such as the last tycoonby Fitzgerald, has removed this book from the spotlight, in part because at the time it barely sold a handful of copies and because of the proposal’s innocence.
West was always a wannabe at anything. He forged all sorts of papers to get into two colleges and then hated them, worked construction with his father before becoming SJ Perelman’s brother-in-law and spending nights in reception at Kenmore Hall, where he really began to take what he did seriously. to write He published only four novels – all as deliriously destructive and at the same time charming as The day of the locust—but he wrote endless scripts in less than a decade, the one he spent in Hollywood, where he met Fitzgerald and the rest of the illustrious screenwriters of the time, and where he got the inspiration to demolish, from within and without forgetting a single nuance, the absurdity of the American dream.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.