If you like books that are dystopic, dysfunctional and a downright downer, then Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) by Nathanael West is a book you should read. The title implies a romance novel. It’s anything but.
Considered an expressionist black comedy, Miss Lonelyhearts is an unnamed, male, depression-era newspaper columnist, who works in New York City and has a Christ complex.
Miss Lonelyhearts is more of a novella (about 75 pages) than a novel, but packs more existential punch within those 75 pages than any other full length novel of that ilk that I’ve read.
It contains violence, sex, the occasional bar fight, references to rape, sexism and is rife with nihilism and black irony. I think that’s why I like it.
If you decide that you want to defenestrate the rainbows and sunshine of the world and see it from its much darker side then click here to read Miss Lonelyhearts online.
Miss Lonelyhearts was the second novel by Nathanael West. He is also famous for The Day of the Locust. In 1940 he, along with his wife Eileen McKenney, was killed in a car accident exactly one day after his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald died. He was 37.
Excerpt from the book:
Although the deadline was less than a quarter of an hour away, he was still working on his leader. He had gone as far as: “Life is worth while, for it is full of dreams and peace, gentleness and ecstasy, and faith that burns like a clear white flame on a grim dark altar.” But he found it impossible to continue. The letters were no longer funny. He could not go on finding the same joke funny thirty times a day for months on end. And on most days he received more than thirty letters, all of them alike, stamped from the dough of suffering with a heart-shaped cookie knife.
On his desk were piled those he had received this morning. He started through them again, searching for some clue to a sincere answer.
Dear Miss Lonelyhearts–
I am in such pain I dont know what to do sometimes I think I will kill myself my kidneys hurt so much. My husband thinks no woman can be a good catholic and not have children irregardless of the pain. I was married honorable from our church but I never knew what married life meant as I never was told about man and wife. My grandmother never told me and she was the only mother I had but made a big mistake by not telling me as it dont pay to be innocent and is only a big disappointment. I have 7 children in 12 yrs and ever since the last 2 I have been so sick. I was operated on twice and my husband promised no more children on the doctors advice as he said I might die but when I got back from the hospital he broke his promise and now I am going to have a baby and I dont think I can stand it my kidneys hurt so much. I am so sick and scared because I cant have an abortion on account of being a catholic and my husband so religious. I cry all the time it hurts so much and I dont know what to do.
Miss Lonelyhearts threw the letter into an open drawer and lit a cigarette.