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Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney Hardcover – March 11, 2010

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NATHANAEL WEST--novelist, screenwriter, playwright, devoted outdoorsman--was one of the most gifted and original writers of his generation, a comic artist whose insight into the brutalities of modern life proved prophetic. He is famous for two masterpieces, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939). Seventy years later, The Day of the Locust remains the most penetrating novel ever written about Hollywood.

EILEEN MCKENNEY--accidental muse, literary heroine--was the inspiration for her sister Ruth's humorous stories, My Sister Eileen, which led to stage, film, and television adaptations, including Leonard Bernstein's 1953 musical Wonderful Town. She grew up in Cleveland and moved to Manhattan at 21 in search of romance and adventure. She and her sister lived in a basement apartment in the Village with a street-level window into which men frequently peered.

Husband and wife were intimate with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Katharine White, S.J. Perelman, Bennett Cerf, and many of the literary, theatrical, and movie notables of their era. With Lonelyhearts, biographer Marion Meade, whose Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin earned accolades from the Washington Post Book World ("Wonderful") to the San Francisco Chronicle ("Like looking at a photo album while listening to a witty insider reminisce about the images"), restores West and McKenney to their rightful places in the rich cultural tapestry of interwar America.

Amazon Exclusive: An Essay from Marion Meade, Author of Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney

The year 1939 turned out to be golden for Hollywood--Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz--and particularly lucky for the gifted but largely undiscovered novelist and screenwriter Nathanael West. That fall, he met a sassy young Ohioan--Eileen McKenney, the All-American Girl heroine of the best-selling My Sister Eileen stories--and, though allergic to commitment, wound up marrying her a couple of months later.

It was chemistry, like one of those Frank Capra screwball comedies in which wisecracking babes are always falling for handsome heartthrobs but wind up as runaway brides in the arms of Cary Grant. Sadly, no mushy romantic finale awaited Nat and Eileen. Eight months after their wedding, just days before the Broadway premiere of the play based on her sister's stories, they died in a car crash in the middle of the lettuce fields just outside El Centro, California.

Today, West's Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust are recognized as American masterpieces, and though McKenney is barely remembered, her legacy still lives on; My Sister Eileen became the basis for Leonard Bernstein's enchanting musical Wonderful Town. Nat and Eileen lost their lives far too soon, but with Lonelyhearts, they're back and ready for their close-ups.

(Photo © Jerry Bauer)

A Look Inside: Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney
(Click on Images to Enlarge)

A young Nathanael West, 1917 The glamorous Eileen McKenney Fishing was one of Nat's passions Last known photo of Eileen, 1940

From Publishers Weekly

When their car smashed into another during the waning days of 1940, Nathanael West (né Nathan Weinstein) and his pretty young wife, Eileen McKenney, were largely unknown to the public. At 37, West's four novels, with their pitchfork skewering of the American dream, hadn't sold especially well. West was then better known within Hollywood circles for his potboiler-script writing and doctoring. Eileen became famous a few days after the pair's untimely death with the Broadway opening of My Sister Eileen, written by Ruth McKenney. Meade (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?)has skillfully concocted a snappy dual biography of this odd couple. He was a promiscuous New Yorker whose sexual orientation could not unreasonably be questioned in light of his fiction. Eileen was an uptight Midwesterner whose probable rape as a youngster left her sexually unresponsive. Thrown into this mix is Ruth McKenney, Eileen's ugly duckling sister, who turned herself into a favorite among New Yorker sophisticates. This is a well-packed re-creation of the lives of star-crossed lovers through an era that would come to be defined in part by Nathanael West—but only well after his death. 32 photos, 1 map. (Mar. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1St Edition edition (March 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151011494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151011490
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,593,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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