Best 1931 Adventures (5)
April 27, 2016
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1931 adventure novels. Happy 85th anniversary!
Nathanael West‘s sardonic picaresque The Dream Life of Balso Snell.
The Dream Life of Balso Snell is a series of encounters — taking place within the entrails of the (enormous) Trojan Horse, which the protagonist has stumbled upon — with grotesque characters who may or may not represent various religious and artistic ideals. West savages not only bourgeois types like our protagonist, Balso Snell, a cliché-spouting middle-aged poet. He also rejects “smart, sophisticated, sensitive yet hard-boiled” nobrows, i.e., nihilists like himself, as well. Buffeted between the highbrow language of official culture and lowbrow material realities (from assholes to severed fingers), Snell seeks a middlebrow dialectical synthesis of the two… but the author is a resolute negative dialectitian. So Snell is condemned to an endless Purgatory.
Fun fact: The author’s blurb announced the book’s “use of the violently dissociated, the dehumanized marvelous, the deliberately criminal and imbecilic.” The book was published in New York by the Paris-based Contact Editions in an edition of 500 copies. There were no other printings during West’s lifetime.
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1931 adventures that you particularly admire.