Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I Should Have Stayed Home

If F. Scott Fitzgerald is the scribe of the Jazz Age, then Horace McCoy is the chronicler of the ensuing Great Depression.  His short novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They? drags us into the world of dance marathons.  No horses are actually shot, so all you animal lovers can feel okay about reading it.  McCoy is relentless in his portrayal of the complete apathy and desperation caused by the prospect of having no prospects for the future.

He also had a knack for choosing titles, that's for sure!



I Should Have Stayed Home opens on two aspiring actors, hoping to make it big in the golden age of the Silver Screen in 1938.  In some respects, the concept of the novel resembles Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust--in fact, as I read the opening chapter, I wondered if I had read this book before.  But while I found West's book dense as a stale fruitcake, McCoy peels back the thin layer of glamour covering Hollywood and lets us look at its messy guts.

Yum, what a delicious mixed metaphor!  But on to the book!

Ralph and Mona are roommates.  Oddly, they're not *roommates* roommates, but they get along okay.  They're always out of money and out of a job.  That happens when you're part of the crush to become extras in a Hollywood movie, with the eventual hope of Making It Big and Becoming A Star.  They survive on coffee and credit from the corner store.  Too proud to admit that the job he traveled across the country for never panned out, Ralph dutifully pens letters to his mother back in Georgia describing the wonders of Hollywood life.  Mona's secretive scribbles are no doubt the same.

But when Mona cusses out a judge at their friend's trial, a series of events (unfortunate events?) are set in motion that hurry both of them along the path to disillusionment.

After a chance encounter with one of Mona's former roommates, the two are invited to a big gala in Beverly Hills.  The hostess, a rich widow that Mona describes as a "nymphomaniac," takes a shine to Ralph.  His gee-shucks attitude and smashing good looks land him the job as Mrs. Smithers' next boy toy.  He figures that with her connections, he'll be sure to break into the business.  He might have to submit to some ... unpleasantness ... but it'll be worth it.  Right?

Mona knows that Ralph is headed for trouble, but can't stop him. From gala to jail to dingy apartment, the two extras desperately search Hollywood for the fame and fortune that must be just around the corner.  It has to be.

McCoy's bleak, atmospheric description of Depression-era Hollywood is enthralling.  You can see the roots of classics like Sunset Boulevard in this novel.  McCoy writes noir social commentary that's well worth seeking out.




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