Alive Inside the Wreck

A Biography of Nathanael West

Joe Woodward

“Wildly funny, desperately sad, brutal and kind, furious and patient, there was no other like Nathanael West.” —Dorothy Parker

"Joe Woodward gives us an invaluable guide to the difficult life of the mysterious and great Nathanael West. Who knew the author of Miss Lonelyhearts was tall and handsome? That when he died in an automobile accident, the wife at his side was the Eileen of My Sister Eileen? Or that his Hollywood pal was F. Scott Fitzgerald? While tracking the sources and struggles of West’s writing, Alive Inside the Wreck marvelously evokes the moment when his singular novels made their indelible mark on a new American literature." —Honor Moore, author of The Bishop’s Daughter

Buy This Book


Paperback: $16/£11

E-book: $6/£4

Print + E-book: $22/£14

FAQs and shipping information

About the Book

From his name to his college transcript to his literary style, Nathanael West was self-invented. Born Nathan Weinstein, the author of the classics Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939) was an uncompromising artist obsessed with writing the perfect novel. He pursued his passion from New York to California, flirting dangerously with the bleak, faux-glamour of Hollywood as the country suffered through the grim realities of the Great Depression. At the center of a circle of vigorous young literary writers that included Malcolm Cowley, William Carlos Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, S. J. Perelman, and Dashiell Hammett, West rose to become one of the most original literary talents of the twentieth century—an accomplished yet regrettably underappreciated master of the short lyric novel.

West was finally starting to enjoy financial stability as a Hollywood screenwriter when he died in the California desert. A notoriously bad driver, he was racing back from a vacation in Mexico with his young bride of eight months when he crashed at full speed into another car. He was dead at the age of 37.

For this book, the first biography on West alone in over 40 years, Joe Woodward combed the archives at The Huntington Library and the John Hay Library at Brown University. At both he had access to personal letters, photographs, unpublished manuscripts and corrected typescripts as well as seldom-heard taped interviews with S. J. Perelman, Dalton Trumbo, Matthew Josephson and others.

Publication November 15th 2011 • 272 pages
paperback ISBN 978-1-935928-39-3 • ebook ISBN 978-1-935928-38-6

About the Author

Joe Woodward is a four-time finalist and two-time winner of a Los Angeles Press Club Award. His nonfiction, on some of the most reclusive, eccentric, yet talented writers of our time, including David Foster Wallace, Bret Easton Ellis, Tobias Wolff, and Hunter S. Thompson, has appeared in a variety of publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, and Poets & Writers Magazine. He currently lives with his family in Los Angeles. The Nathanael West Project

In the Media

BBC Radio 3, February 22nd, 2015

Vol 1. Brooklyn, March 15, 2012

Literary Review, February 2012

The Telegraph, November 20th 2011

Largehearted Boy, November 18th 2011

Lit Fest Magazine, November 13th 2011

Huffington Post, October 14th 2011

Biblioklept, September 12th 2011

Galleycat, September 1st 2011

Verified by MonsterInsights