Episode 2: Morgan Frank on A Cool Million

Episode 2: Morgan Frank on Nathanael West’s A Cool Million

Just the sense of ‘mute anguish’ and not being sure how to respond or even what to say seems like a powerful literary statement or stance.
— Morgan Frank

Transcript: Reading After Trump, Episode 2

Here are the key passages we discuss:

[Lem sees a horse-drawn wagon careen out of control, heading toward an old gentleman and his beautiful young daughter.]
     Lem hesitated…then dashed in the path of the horses. With great strength and agility, he grasped their bridles and dragged them to a rearing halt, a few feet from the astounded and thoroughly frightened pair.
     ‘That lad has saved your lives,’ said a bystander to the old gentleman, who was none other than Mr. Levi Underdown, president of the Underdown National Bank and Trust Company.
     Unfortunately, however, Mr. Underdown was slightly deaf, and, although exceedingly kind…he was very short tempered. He entirely misunderstood the nature of our hero’s efforts and thought that the poor boy was a careless groom who had let his charges get out of hand…
     Lem had been unable to utter one word in explanation because during his tussle with the horses, his teeth had jarred loose and without them he was afraid to speak. All he could do was to gaze after their departing backs with mute but ineffectual anguish. (50–51)

When the orchestra had finished playing, the audience reseated itself and Lem prepared to make his speech.
‘I am a clown,’ he began, ‘but there are times when even clowns must grow serious. This is such a time. I…’
Lem got no further. A shot rang out and he fell dead, drilled through the heart by an assassin’s bullet. (136–37)

John D. Rockefeller would give a cool million to have a stomach like yours.“—OLD SAYING (6)

 —Nathanael West, A Cool Million: The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin (London: Neville, 1954).  Originally published 1934