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Rating: 4.75* of five
The Publisher Says: Praised by great writers from Flannery O'Conner to Jonathan Lethem, Miss Lonelyhearts is an American classic. A newspaper reporter assigned to write the agony column in the depths of the Great Depression seeks respite from the poor souls who send in their sad letters, only to be further tormented by his viciously cynical editor, Shrike.
This single volume of Miss Lonelyhearts features its original Alvin Lustig jacket design, as well as a new introduction by Harold Bloom, who calls it "my favorite work of modern American fiction."
My Review: Totally with Harold Bloom here, this is one of the USA's cultural treasures. In just under 100pp, anomie and alienation and the Problem of Evil (solved, allegedly anyway, by theodicy, resolving the evidential problem of evil that is the essence of the story West tells here) are examined thoroughly and from several viewpoints. While telling a louche little tale of drinking, fucking, and cheating, West also manages to incorporate an acid bath of gallows humor into the proceedings:
But now let us consider the holes in our own bodies and into what these congenital wounds open. Under the skin of man is a wondrous jungle where veins like lush tropical growths hang along over-ripe organs and weed-like entrails writhe in squirming tangles of red and yellow. In this jungle, flitting from rock-gray lungs to golden intestines, from liver to lights and back to liver again, lives a bird called the soul.
His nudges and winks at the audience are almost post-modern: Shrike, who is the otherwise-unnamed Miss Lonelyhearts' editor, is named for a particularly nasty bird of prey, and the man we call "Miss Lonelyhearts" is both emasculated and depersonalized by his yclepture.
He knew now what this thing was — hysteria, a snake whose scales are tiny mirrors in which the dead world takes on a semblance of life. And how dead the world is . . . a world of doorknobs. He wondered if hysteria were really too steep a price to pay for bringing it to life.
It's hard to imagine a more complete telling of the tale of man's bitter fate than this one. Trudge along in your path, you dumb oxen, and this is what will overtake you; lift your heads, look at the sky, and dare to yearn?
Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on eath. Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will percieve the divine mystery in things. Once you percieve it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.
This is what will overtake you. West knew it, felt it, and ultimately lived it by dying early as he drove drunk.
Fitting, isn't it.