Perhaps the synopsis on my copy was incorrect as although The Day of the Locust did provide a look into the underbelly of Hollywood society, it certainly was not a good look or even a complete study at that. Nathanael West’s imagery is quite beautiful at times, even when dealing with the scum of the earth and their unfulfilled dreams of debauchery. Unfortunately, by the book’s end, and beautiful words or not, the story is still about the reprehensible scum of the earth and their dreams of debauchery.
A quick look of the cast of main characters and their one-off traits provide no more insight on the human condition, let alone Hollywood, than even the most general of parodies. Faye, a spoiled young woman with zero common sense and even less schooling, whose base desire is nothing more than the folly of being a worshipped star. Tod, the angst-ridden painter, who apparently gets joy in seeing the disheartened and lonely on the streets of LA. And Homer Simpson who is a simple-minded, spineless fool; at least his modern-day pop-culture namesake attempts to learn from his mistakes and actually loves his family. The Day of the Locust simply has these three characters stumble around Depression-era LA providing a mocking commentary that, except for very broad and common strokes, would be mostly lost on 21st Century readers.
Other reviewers have compared West’s story with Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Thematically, similarities do exist: a group of disparate friends communing together in a strange, foreign land, commenting on life and drinking heavily. However, any other resemblances end there as Hemingway is, well, Hemingway and can both write and inspire from well-beyond the grave.
The narrator from The Sun Also Rises is a much more compelling and articulate character, suffering from injuries both physical and mental, and causes to the reader to both relate and respond in kind to the commentary being presented. Where today’s reality-based, TMZ-centered lifestyle can perhaps be traced back to The Day of the Locust, the ineptitude of the characters inspires no such passion nor even pity.