Nathanael West, Business deal
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.