On December 22, 1940 at five minutes to three, Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney were in a car accident in the middle of the California desert. We know the time because the Highway Patrol recovered Eileen's broken watch at the scene.
They had been married less than year. West had completed two masterworks, Miss Lonelyhearts and, recently, The Day of the Locust. He was at work on his fifth novel, for which Random House had paid him a modest advance of $250.00.
They had been happy. They had been.
I begin his biography, ALIVE INSIDE THE WRECK, this way:
"The accident happened at five minutes to three, two days before Christmas: December 22, 1940. Rain puddles stood in the dips of the road from a morning storm. Broken thunderclouds lingered over the flat California desert. Nathanael West was on his way home.
"The Woody station wagon held West's new wife Eileen and their liver-colored pointer, Julie. As he crossed the intersection where Route 111 runs into Interstate 80, West and Eileen collided with the Dowless Family--a husband and wife and two year-old daughter. West was traveling north out of Mexico after a weekend hunting trip. His car was full of dead quail and duck, the legal limit. Four shotguns rattled loose on the back seat."
Nathanael West R.I.P.