Miss Lonelyhearts is Nathanael West's second novel. It is an Expressionist black comedy set in New York City during the Great Depression.
In the story, Miss Lonelyhearts is an unnamed male newspaper columnist writing an advice column, which is viewed by the newspaper as a joke. As "Miss Lonelyhearts" reads letters from desperate New Yorkers, he feels terribly burdened and falls into a cycle of deep depression, accompanied by heavy drinking and occasional barfights. He also suffers from the pranks and cynical advice of his editor at the newspaper, named "Shrike", which is also a type of predatory bird. Miss Lonelyhearts tries several approaches as a way out of this depression (including religion, escaping to the countryside, and sex) but only ends up more confused.
The general theme of the novel is one of extreme disillusionment with Depression-era American society, a consistent theme throughout West's novels. However, the novel is essentially a black comedy and is characterized by an extremely dark but clever sense of humor and irony. The novel can be treated as a meditation on the theme of theodicy, or the problem of why evil exists in the world. The novel's protagonist is psychologically overwhelmed by his perception of this evil, which is treated as an explanation for his increasingly desperate psychological condition. Although the characters of Miss Lonelyhearts are grotesque caricatures, the periodic letters sent to Miss Lonelyhearts, which describe real people with real insoluble problems, serve to ground the novel's Expressionism in reality.
©1933 Nathanael West (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
This has an excruciatingly bad ten or twelve minute critical introduction. After that comes one of the creepiest well-known works of modern American fiction, read in a way that clouds but does not obliterate the tone and madness of the story. It's hard to understand why so many audiobook narrators read in cartoon-character voices. Oh well. The gist of Miss Lonelyhearts is here.
Very good look at the time period and the struggles of the people and the despair of so many. Excellent and I hope the rest of West shows up soon. Good and surprising in some ways for the time it was written.
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