Two decades plus makes quite a difference to a reading experience. I read this work a few times back when I was an undergraduate and probably once after that, but certainly well over a decade ago. I was blown away by it as an undergrad, not as much now as an older man.
In between, though, there's not just been life experience but other reading, most specifically other reading of Nathanael West. Not only did I read his Day of the Locust (more than once) but also his two minor novels, and in that regard, I couldn't help on this read to notice the similarities between Lonelyhearts and his first novel, which was written for a small audience and mostly centers around dream life and Freudian psychology. This time around, Lonelyhearts seemed to have the same obsession, though on a more sophisticated and more interesting level. Still, that took some of the joy of it away from me.
Miss Lonelyhearts is an advice columnist who is tired of dealing with the heartache in the world. Written more as a set of short anecdotes than a full-fledged plotted novel, it focuses on healing that heartache--or the inability to do it, through religion or through art. This made for easy papers on modernism as an undergrad, but now I find myself wanting more. So the center won't hold? So what? What are we to do with this knowledge?
The last time I read Miss Lonelyhearts, I remember having come to prefer The Day of the Locust. We'll see if that holds true this time. Still, I mark these books as five stars for the joy I got from them at a younger age; they hold a good place in my heart.