Best 1931 Adventures (5)

By: Joshua Glenn
April 27, 2016

One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1931 adventure novels. Happy 85th anniversary!

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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.

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Let me know if I’ve missed any 1931 adventures that you particularly admire.

What do you think?

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