"I’ll try another one anyway, I guess.”—Nathanael West in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, June 30, 1939, discussing the critical and popular reaction to his last novel, The Day of the Locust, in Nathanael West, Novels and Other Writings (Library of America edition)
Neither West no Fitzgerald ever had the chance to “try another one.” Amazingly, these two writers who spent time in Hollywood as screenwriters died within 24 hours of each other a year later--Fitzgerald through a heart attack, West in a car crash that also killed his wife.
The closeness of their deaths capped a relationship that at first glance might seem incongruous in authors with such different styles and worldviews. Yet they formed a great bond, formed in mutual respect for each other and in resentment against a film colony that hired them for recognizable individual talents before doing everything it could to neuter these.
It would be hard to find projects as different as The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel about a Hollywood producer who is a romantic at heart, and The Day of the Locust, a surrealistic fable of Tinseltown hangers-on that ends with an apocalyptic riot.
But Fitzgerald, with typical generosity to younger writers (such as Ernest Hemingway, who showed his gratitude multiple times after he’d become a success and Fitzgerald was on his slide downward), had recommended West for a Guggenheim fellowship (unfortunately, West didn’t receive the grant). West deeply appreciated the assist, perhaps sensing a kindred spirit—someone afflicted with the same sense of depression.
It’s impossible not to admire both men’s sense of iron resolution.
Both men would receive posthumous recognition as American masters. The turnaround for Fitzgerald began with Princeton friend Edmund Wilson, who edited the shards of The Last Tycoon as well as a collection of essays, The Crack-Up. It would take the 1950s before the American intelligentsia awoke to the brilliance of West’s bleak vision in The Day of the Locust.