Thursday, May 16, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 23: Nathanael West, Business Deal (#21)

Nathanael West, "Business Deal" (1933) from Nathanael West

A short comedic slice of Westiana: The head of a studio crumbles in the face of a young writer who wants $500-a-week to continue working.

I say "Westiana" purposely, and only partly because this short piece was published in the magazine Americana. For one thing, the studio head, Klingspiel uses the line "Vas you dere, Charley?," which was a 1930s catch-phrase from a radio show that West also used in Day of the Locust (I think). For another thing, West was one of those Hollywood writers who didn't mind pulling back the curtain on the veniality and lowness of the move-making business and "Business Deal" fits very well with Locust. (And his other books often have some element of the screwball entertainment business, from prostitution and vaudeville in A Cool Million to the newspaper hell of Miss Lonelyhearts.)

There's also a great deal of the usual Westian farce here:
The repeated buzz of the dictograph cut short his delicious sport. He flipped the switch irritably.
"Who is it?"
"Hwonh hwonh hwonh hwonh hwonh."
"I'll see them later," said Mr. Klingspiel. "Send in Charlie Baer."
If there's a take-away from West's "Business Deal" (and his other work), I think it's his coolness towards his main characters. Whether you think Klingspiel or Baer is the hero here, no one comes off well: Baer is a cipher, with his cipherdom emphasized by how uninflected his voice is--first like a cow, then like metal; and Klingspiel is a b.s. artist, throwing anything at Baer (this is a public monument, a young man should be happy making what I'm offering, you're not that great) and finally himself at the end (I'll show that enemy studio by offering you even more). West positions us at a distance and slightly above the action here, so that we can laugh and judge.

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