Arion Lyre

97. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, with an introduction by David Thomson, and photographs by Lucy Gray.

The Day of the Locust, the novel by Nathanael West, with an introduction by David Thomson, and twenty photographs by Lucy Gray, July 2013.

To illustrate the new Arion Press limited edition, award-winning photographer Lucy Gray assumed the role of director of an imagined film version of The Day of the Locust, casting actors for her portraits of the main characters. To depict buildings, streets, and architectural details, she revisited the Los Angeles neighborhoods frequented by West and his cronies. The resulting twenty photographic illustrations are in the style of movie stills, printed with a metallic ink background that creates the mood of night scenes.

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“Thomson and Gray are absolutely the most brilliant interpreters of West's bleak, terrifying classic. Gray might have been there, so evocative is her camera, and no one knows more than David Thomson about Hollywood and about West himself. It's perfect.”

– Diane Johnson, author of Dashiell Hammett: A Life and “The Shining” (screenplay)

“No one remembers the 1975 film of The Day of the Locust because the casting was terrible. Images from the film never entered the folklore of the nation as the book has, but Lucy Gray’s images—conceived as stills for the movie that remains to be made—very well may. Her pictures—with buildings such as Homer Simpson’s rotting cottage or the San Bernadino Arms communicating as fully as faces or bodies—are at once familiar and revelatory. That’s exactly who Faye Greener is, you might say, even if you’ve never pictured her before—and no wonder Tod Hackett never did a thing for her. You don’t have to page back and forth between the text and the photographs; the pictures glow in the reader’s mind from first sight.”

– Greil Marcus, author of Lipstick Traces and A New Literary History of America

“Auden said about The Day of the Locust, that, if it was a parable about Hollywood as Hell, it was a hell in which the devil was not the father of lies but the father of wishes. Lucy Gray’s photographs catch that exactly, the moment when, as David Thomson writes in an introduction to the book, ‘the wishes that constitute the American dream are slipping into nightmare.’ But as with so many great photographs it’s not the nightmare that gives them power, it’s the ordinariness that this dark, luminous wishing comes from. How brilliant the staging of the completely artificial ‘natural light’ and the completely awkward ‘natural poses’ in Gray's photographs. It’s a perfect equivalent for what’s so awful and heartbreaking and beautiful in West’s novel.”

– Robert Hass, past U.S. Poet Laureate and author of What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World

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