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Nathanael West, Business deal

May 29, 2010

This week’s Library of America offering was (or “is” since it’s still this week, but “was” cos I’ve read it – all this tense stuff can be so bothering!) Nathanael West’s Business deal. It’s short, and I’d just finished my novel for bookgroup, so I decided to read it.

I don’t know much about Nathanael West, other than recognising his name, but according to Wikipedia he lived from 1903 to 1940. Another writer who died young – though he wasn’t quite so young as the likes of poor Keats and Stephen Crane, neither of whom even made 30, and he died not of illness but in a car accident. Anyhow, Wikipedia describes West as “author, screenwriter and satirist”. The brief introductory notes accompanying the story say essentially the same thing. These notes suggest that his recognition as a writer comes mainly from his novels, but his money came from his plays. This LOA offering, however, is a short story. It was published in 1933 in a magazine called Americana, which apparently published a lot of satirical writing.

Business deal is about the head of a movie production company, which is rather aptly named “Gargantual Pictures”, planning his next takeovers while at the same time preparing not to pay a very successful young scriptwriter what he’s asking. This is not a subtle story, and neither character is particularly appealing:

The mongoose [the scriptwriter] sat comfortably and waited for the cobra [the company head] to strike again.

Effective image, eh? It is, in fact, a pretty typical negotiation story in which one side holds its ground while the other pulls out all arguments until one of them either capitulates or plays the winning card at just the right moment. I won’t tell which one is which, but if you think of which profession West was you may just work out who wins this particular deal! It’s a humorous if rather predictable story, but it does demonstrate the well-honed skills of a successful satirist. It is worth reading for that.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2010 00:51

    How interesting, Sue – and I’m pleased to know of more of West’s work (hadn’t even heard of this one).
    Do try ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ (usually packaged in one volume together with ‘The Day of the Locust’, West’s Hollywood novel, which is also worth a look; avoid the film tho’ …).
    I read ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ when I was at university, and found it very moving. So much so that it has stayed with me ever since. The whole novel – more a novella – is almost a metaphor for sensitivity/sympathy and a capacity for empathy run riot. So it can be a painful read – but the bite of satire saves it. Just. Only just …

  2. May 29, 2010 01:21

    When a writer dies young, it is not difficult to read his entire works. I’ve read ‘Day of the Locust’ and ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’. He was our first great Hollywood novelist,

  3. May 29, 2010 09:46

    Minnie: Thanks for the recommendation. I did gather that Miss Lonelyhearts was well regarded, but I’d never heard of it. I like your description of the theme – it certainly makes it interesting to me. BUT, woe is me, the TBR pile (virtual and real) is getting way too big.

    Tony: LOL, that’s true. Just look at my favourite Jane Austen who was only a few years older when she died. I haven’t read many Hollywood novels but probably the most recent one I’ve read – I hadn’t thought of calling it that though until now – was Mona Simpson’s Anywhere but here. It was a good read.

  4. June 2, 2010 19:30

    It sounds quite interesting, particularly after the Darcy O’Brien I read recently. Not sure how I’d track it down though. Is it still in copyright do you know?

    • June 2, 2010 20:03

      Sorry Max, I’m not sure which one you mean. Do you mean Miss Lonelyhearts? It’s available at Amazon.

      • June 2, 2010 20:19

        I meant this one. I hadn’t clicked the link at the top to a free copy rather stupidly…

  5. June 2, 2010 23:21

    Oh good, I did wonder. I sometimes say “You can read it HERE” and put the link under “HERE” but all those make you blog better guides say not to do that. I think I will though in these types of situations. Much clearer.

  6. June 3, 2010 06:14

    Really? I always do that. Why’s it frowned upon?

    • June 3, 2010 10:17

      That is something I have yet to understand properly. Most guides just say don’t do it but I think an early one I read explained it – I think it’s to do with searching, but the “name” is in the html link if you do the “here” business and I think Google searches that? Anyhow, whatever I read didn’t make a lot of sense to me cos I haven’t remembered it.

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