Especially if stretching the decade a bit, the American fiction writer who looms largest in retrospects of the 1930s (indeed, of 20th-century American literature) was William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury, 1929; Sartoris, 1929; As I Lay Dying, 1930; Light in August, 1932; Absalom, Absalom!, 1936; The Unvanquished, 1938; The Wild Palms, 1939; The Hamlet, early in 1940. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night was published in 1934. The prototypical Depression-era chronicler was John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath 1939; Of Mice and Men, 1937; In Dubious Battle, 1936; he also published Pastures of Heaven in 1932, The Red Pony in 1933, and Tortilla Flat in 1935). (None of the best books by Nobel laureates Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway were published during the 1930s; Pearl Buck’s most famous one, The Good Earth was (in 1931), but neither then nor now was considered “literature” by the keepers of the temple of Literature.)
Katherine Anne Porter published three collections of novellas and short stories (Flowering Judas, 1930, The Leaning Tower, 1934, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, 1939) though she is not usually regarded as a “1930s writer.” Erskine Caldwell, who was famous for Tobacco Road (1932) and God’s Little Acre (1933) and James T. Farrell (the “Studs” Lonigan novels of 1932 and 1934) have faded from memory (of canon-makers).
The one American novelist whose stock has risen (if less than Faulkner’s) is Nathanael West (né Nathan von Wallenstein Weinstein), a friend of Fitzgerald who died in an automobile crash in 1940 a few months after turning 37. He published four novels, none of them very long, including two widely recognized as masterpieces: Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939). The latter is often regarded as The Great Hollywood Novel (lists of them also include Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon that was unfinished when he died, the day before West).
Rereading The Day of the Locust, I resisted considering it a “Hollywood novel,” though the protagonist, Tod Hackett, a mandarinate Easterner condescending to the Midwesterners who came to the sun and/or dreams of becoming movie stars (or the mother of a movie star) works painting backgrounds and designing costumes for a Hollywood studio, and the novel famously ends with a mob outside a theater where a movie is going to première. (“While not torch-bearers themselves, they would run behind the fire and do a great deal of shouting,” the Yale-educated and -connected Sunday painter dreaming about the destruction of Hollywood thinks of the undereducated potentially fascist masses.)
Tod (German for “death”; the usual name for Americans is Todd) also works on a big painting of the destruction by fire of Hollywood. He observes yokels ( his view of most of those who, like him, immigrated to southern California) for his paintings. Tod views not just the retirees but most all of the immigrants to Tinseltown as lacking “the mental equipment for leisure, the money for pleasure.” Prominent in it is a gold-digger, Faye Greener, who resists Tod’s recurrent sexual advances.
After her former vaudevillian father promoter Harry dies, Faye moves in with an autistic (my diagnosis) Midwesterner who used to be a bookkeeper in a hotel named Homer Simpson (West was there first with the name, OK?). Homer is spending his savings dressing and entertaining Faye, who expects to become a star but is only an occasional extra (also see Horace McCoy’s  I Should Have Stayed Home, the title delivering a verdict which West pronounced on the characters in his novel and, indeed, on the masses who had found their way to southern California). Faye also strings along a lanky underemployed cowboy, Earle. The ripe fruit is eventually plucked (by a Mexican cockfighter and cock-man named Miguel) and Todd vows not to think of her any more (which is difficult, since she is the star of the masterpiece he believes he is painting).
Homer and a sinister child named Adore (!) with a pushy stage mother occasion the unleashing of the hostility not far below the surface of the star-worshiping fans and Tod is buffeted and battered.
The ending seems forced to me, and the gallery of grotesques (a dwarf who sells silver polish and who is also inflamed by Faye) more a product of bile than of observation. (The cockfight is all too keenly observed and chronicled…). I also think that there is a lot of abstract telling in characterizing. For example:
“He had seen young birches droop like that at midday when they are over-heavy with sun.”
“Her beauty was structural, like a tree’s, not a quality of mind or heart.”
The earlier, briefer, and even more despairing Miss Lonelyhearts is short, but padded with some long letters to the columnist, who is a male with something of a Christ complex and a drinking problem, though I realize that newspapermen of the era were typified as heavy drinkers.
In addition to the steady diet of agony in the letters he receives, Miss Lonelyhearts is hectored by his editor Shrike (a predatory bird with none of the grandeur of hawks and eagles) who exceeds stereotypes of cynicism and alcoholism. Shrike strikes down any consolations Miss Lonelyhearts entertains (religion in particular) and uses his subordinate to warm up his wife, Miss Lonelyhearts is generally as sexually frustrated as Tod Hackett would be, though he does have sex with the wife of a “cripple” who has been providing her no sexual satisfaction but gave his name (Doyle) to the daughter she was carrying when they wed. No good deed goes unpunished and there is an absurdist violent ending to match (on a much smaller scale) that of Homer and Adore at the end of The Day of the Locust.
Indeed, this passage about Miss Lonelyhearts prefigures Tod at the end of the Day of the Locust (and is vivid if somewhat abstract): “Miss Lonelyhearts felt as he had felt years before, when he had accidentally stepped on a small frog. Its spilled guts had filled him with pity, but when its suffering had become real to his senses, his pity had turned to rage and he had beaten it frantically until it was dead.” (The line I lifted for my subtitle also derives from Lonelyhearts, rather than Locust.)
Though Montgomery Clift, Robert Ryan, and Maureen Stapleton embodied the roles of Lonelyhearts, Shrike, and Mrs. Doyle (bordering on seeming to be typecast), the 1958 movie softened the nastiness and tacked on an ending antithetical to the book (not just the boo’s ending, the book). John Schlesinger made a long, mostly boring movie adaptation of Day of the Locust, though Karen Black was memorable as Faye fellating a beer bottle.
The parody of Horatio Alger stories (in parody breathless prose), The Cool Million, and the apprentice grotesquerie of neurotic isolation/implosion, The Dream Life of Balso Snell are of little interest other than sharing some themes of misanthropy without the novelistic skills of West’s two masterpieces. Not just an acerbic observer of stucco constructions (homes as well as sets) in LA, West was a despairing observer of human misery New York style before going to Hollywood. Tod considers that most of the LA masses came, unconsciously since they had an intellectual level that was bovine, to die. West himself died in El Centro. BTW, West had nine screenplay credits to Fitzgerald’s one (I’d like to see “I Stole a Million” and, perhaps “Five Came Back”).
The Library of America edition has a detailed chronology of West’s brief life and some unpublished fragments in addition to the four published West novels.