A Bullet Apiece and you may know his name from short fiction at Shotgun Honey, Akashic Books' Mondays Are Murder or The Flash Fiction Offensive. Even though it wasn't written for the series I'm adding this piece to the Picture Books line because it's about both Nathanael West's book and John Schlesinger's film adaptation of The Day of the Locust and you know how much I dig those conversations.
Give it a read and if you like what you see check out his fiction.
by John Joseph Ryan
The image, whether in print or film, of Homer Simpson stomping Adore Loomis is what makes the Grotesque so savagely attractive. Oh, we shouldn’t laugh at that. Is anyone looking? No? Oh, good. Oh, God, that is so fucking funny. That is so dark. That is perfect.
I must have read The Day of the Locust for the first time fifteen or so years ago. I remember picking it up because an older colleague used it in his American Literature class at the high school where I teach, and I had some aspirations to model at least some of my approaches to American Lit on his. The edition of the novel was bundled with Miss Lonelyhearts, so I read them both. I devoured them both, actually. I remember them as being particularly hard-boiled in a mid-twentieth-century way.
The Day of the Locust is certainly hard-boiled. With its cast of misfits, there is not really anyone you can point to and call moral in any conventional sense. Tod Hackett spends a fair part of the book entertaining fantasies of raping Faye Greener and composing his magnum opus, The Burning of Los Angeles. Homer Simpson is a timid, self-loathing time bomb, and when he commits his atrocious act against young Loomis, it is only the target of his violence that is the surprise, not the act of violence itself, coming as it does from such a pent-up palooka as he.
The novel has two imbedded set pieces, one near the beginning, the other near the end, each a kind of matte cut to fit inside the larger frame of the studio lot in motion and the later riot. The first imbedded seat piece is almost a Great Gatsby knockoff with Tod Hackett going to a house party with Claude, replete with drinking and zooming around in roadsters. Tod behaves like a guileless Nick Carraway in this chapter, making observations and generally staying out of the way. The second imbedded set piece also recollects Gatsby, only this time it is Faye Greener (not Daisy Buchanan, nee Faye, interestingly enough) who is the center of attention; in this chapter, set in the hapless Homer’s house, Faye deploys her sexual energy to a terrifying level that Daisy Buchanan could only pretend to possess with her pose of cynicism. Also like Fitzgerald, West was a hell of a stylist, and one could fill a notebook with his great turns of phrase.
The Day of the Locust may be specific to the disenchantment of Hollywood glamour, and it certainly succeeds there. But is much more. All of America could fall under its indictment. Few native Angelenos populate the book. Harry and Faye are from the East, as is Tod. Homer is from Iowa. Maybelle Loomis proudly proclaims that she is “an old settler” in California, having been there just six years (chapter 19). It may be where Americans go “to die,” as Tod oft proclaims throughout the book. In the novel’s apocalyptic finale, he seems to know. As he returns to his vision of The Burning of Los Angeles, he imagines embellishing the flames he has painted in with the mob he is presently crushed within. In a chilling condemnation, he observes that they are “poor devils who can only be stirred by the promise of miracles and then only to violence” (chapter 27). Nearly eighty years after The Day of the Locust’s publication, the United States beset by a charlatan who is not a head of studio but head of the most powerful nation on earth stirring the masses with “the promise of miracles,” surely the violence of this epoch is just starting.
A Bullet Apiece, was published by Blank Slate Press in 2015. John is currently working on a new novel featuring a woman who may or may not have a killing habit.