Two excerpts from Eve's Hollywood, billed as "a confessional L.A. novel by Eve Babitz." James Wolcott wrote about Babitz not too long ago and the Siren, fascinated, managed to borrow a copy of the out-of-print and damn-near-unavailable book from a trusting and generous friend.
This little post is for that friend, and for Kim Morgan, who loves Los Angeles and who makes the Siren want to love it. And after reading this book, the Siren's smitten with Eve Babitz, too. The woman is a natural writer--unforced, unfussy, funny as hell.
First, a picnic by the L.A. River. Los Angeles has a river? wondered the Siren, as she read. Well, of sorts...
Vera Stravinsky once told me that in 1937 she went on a picnic, in a few limousines, that Paulette Goddard had prepared ("because she was quite a gourmet..." Vera said). On the picnic was the Stravinskys, Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, Greta Garbo, Bertrand Russell and the Huxleys. They got into the cars to drive to a likely spot, but there were no likely spots and they drove and drove. There had been a drought and everything was dry, there was no grass and so finally they spotted the measly L.A. "River" and decided to spread their blanket on its ridiculous banks and make the best of it. The "L.A. River" is a trickle that only looks slightly like a river if there's been a downpour for three months but even then it doesn't look like a river. Anyway, they spread out the food, the champagne, the caviar, the pate and everything and sat on the banks of the "river" beneath a bridge over which cars were going.
They looked up and there was a motorcycle cop with his fists on his hips, looking cross.
"Yes?" Bertrand Russell stood up to inquire.
There was a sign that said people were not allowed to picnic by the "river."
The cop pointed to the sign and looked at Russell and then said, "Can't you read?"...
The cop only relented when he recognized Garbo.
The Siren is quoting this next bit because first of all, the Siren loves people who love their cities. Second, the Siren likes Nathanael West--and despite that, this made her laugh and laugh and laugh. Especially the kicker.
"Nathanael West is the best writer about Hollywood there ever was."
"No, he isn't."
The first speaker is someone from Chicago, the second is me, born in Hollywood. People from the East all like Nathanael West because he shows them it's not all blue skies and pink sunsets, so they don't have to worry: It's shallow, corrupt and ugly.
I think Nathanael West was a creep. Assuring his friends back at Dartmouth that even though he'd gone to Hollywood, he had not gone Hollywood. It's a little apologia for coming to the Coast for the money and having a winter where you didn't have to put tons of clothes on just to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes or a beer. And so people from New York and Chicago say, "Nathanael West is the best writer about Hollywood there ever was."
All the things that Nathanael West noticed are here. The old people dying, the ennui, the architecture and fat screenplay writers who think it's a tragedy when they can't get laid by the 14-year-old doxette in Gower Gulch, the same 14-year-old who'll ball the cowboys any old time. But if there had been someone, say, who wrote a book about New York, a nice, precise, short little novel in which New York was only described as ugly, horrendous and finally damned and that was the book everyone from elsewhere decided was the "best book about New York there ever was," people who grew up knowing why New York was beautiful would finally, right before dessert, throw their sherry across the table and yell, "I'll pick you up in a taxi, honey, and take you for a fucking guided tour, you blind jerk."
The Siren's been under the weather, but she'll be back to her old, erratic self in no time.