THE DISMANTLING OF LEMUEL PITKIN is the subtitle of Nathanael West's third novel, A Cool Million. It's often ignored when referring to the book, though it does all the heavy lifting. The short novel moves swiftly and centers on the de-limbing of its protagonist. A third of the way through, West gives a short inventory:
"One wintry morning, several weeks after the incident in the park, Lem was dismissed from the hosptial minus his right eye. It had been so severely damaged that the physicans had thought best to remove it.
He had no money, for, as we have recounted, Snodgrasse's henchmen had robbed him. Even the teeth that Warden Purdy had given him were gone. They had been taken from him by the hospital authorities, who claimed that they did not fit properly and were therefor a menace to his health.
The poor lad was standing on a windy corner, not knowing which way to turn, when he saw a man in a coonskin hat. This remarkable headgear made Lem stare, and the more he looked the more the man seemed to resemble Shagpoke Whipple."
The brutality of Lem's developing dilemma is unending, which makes the book both funny and hard to read. Still, West's vision of nationalism run amuck, of putting faith in the double-speak of politics and politicians isn't lost. Like much of art, and nearly all of West's art, there is raised the voice of warning, but not in it a plausible answer to the question....Now what do we do? Indeed.