Nathanael West (Nathan Weinstein)
BiographyNew York City, New York, USA
Born as Nathan Weinstein, the only son of a wealthy Manhattan real estate developer, West grew up as an overly spoiled child, largely burdened by the belief that he shouldn't be expected to work or show up on time or in any other way trouble himself to get by in the world. The Depression did a lot to revise this attitude. There is abundant evidence as to the domineering nature of his Russian Jewish mother in his novels along with sexual ambiguity (although he seems to have favored female prostitutes, given his numerous bouts with gonorrhea). Read more... by Russian novels and decided to pursue a career as an author. To West, a literary career presupposed a life in Paris, the 1920's intellectual Mecca, hanging out with the likes of Joyce and Fitzgerald, but the 4-month trip was largely spent engaging in sexual debauchery while attempting to pass himself off as a literary flaneur. Upon his return to New York, West failed miserably at writing, his short stories were continually rejected by magazines, his first novel had minuscule run of 500 copies (sales of his critically well-reviewed second novel, "Miss Lonelyhearts" suffered when the publisher went bankrupt), a play with his brother in law S.J. Perelman went unproduced and he sought out a career in Hollywood, where he became a pot boiler screenwriter and script doctor. Hollywood provided the financial stability his novels hadn't and a work structure that encouraged productivity. As a novelist, West was decades ahead of the public norm. His characters were the antithesis of anything drawn by Horatio Alger, filled with the grotesque themes. Indeed, West made it his conscious goal to be unlike anyone else and to be ahead of his time. He married 27-year old Eileen McKenney (the "Eileen" in "My Sister Eileen") in early 1940 and the couple were killed in a car accident--- West was a terrible driver, blowing through a red light at an intersection in El Centro, California, while returning from a hunting trip that had been overshadowed by the death of their friend F. Scott Fitzgerald.