Re: RARA-AVIS: Influences: Nathanael West

From: Rene Ribic (
Date: 11 Jun 2002

> I am currently rereading the works of Nathanael West, and
> it occurred to me that his bleak view of the human
> condition (which, in his case, means *all humans*) is very
> much in line with what we call "noir". A novel like A Cool
> Million could easily be rewritten as a tight fifties
> paperback by changing the tongue-in-cheek narrators voice
> into the voice of a dude who actually believes in what he's
> doing, even if he doesn't know what he's doing. The Day of
> the Locust wouldn't need any such stylistic changes: it is
> a perfect cold dish of dark stuff.
> So I propose that we add West to the list of noir
> precursors and practitioners. When we go down that way, we
> end up collecting a lot of the greatest American writers,
> starting with Twain and including Faulkner and Hemingway -
> and now West.
> Next is Nelson Algren, whose work is staring at me from the
> library.
> Best regards,
> MrT
FWIW, Geoffrey O'Brien lists West's novels (& works by Faulkner, Hemingway & Algren) in his comprehensive listing of "hardboiled" novels in the back of his HARDBOILED AMERICA. I keep my omnibus ed. of West's collected novels with my noir/hb books section of my library (this is a wonderfully dignifying term for a chaotic mass of books on shelves, floors & in boxes). IIRC, Paul Duncan also includes the West novels in his survey of noir fiction. So. Mario, you already have a lot of support for your contention. Likewise, I think it's widely accepted that Mark Twain was a major influence, either direct or indirect, on the early hardboiled literary style. (I remember someone who had more knowledge on the topic than I, basically drawing a time-line for me that went, basically, Mark Twain > Sherwood Anderson > Hemingway - once you get to Hemingway, the influence on Hammett seems even more apparent. Just my two cents worth).


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