Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh and L.A. by Eve Babitz

After reading Eve Babitz’s semi-autobiographical novel Eve’s Hollywood last year, I wrote:

I’m glad her books are being reprinted. I’m looking forward to reading her second novel, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A., and a collection of her journalism, I Used To Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz. There are much worse ways a person could spend their time.

Slow Days, Fast Company, like her first novel, is a series of vignettes written in the first-person. “Eve” visits Bakersfield, Palm Springs and Laguna Beach. She is taken to a Dodgers game. She writes about Los Angeles when it’s windy and when it’s rainy. She hangs out with friends and lovers, none of whom are as interesting as “Eve” says they are.

The impression I got was that Eve or “Eve” exaggerates a lot. If Babitz used elements from her life, I bet she made them sound more glamorous or exciting than they were. If she made things up, she laid on too much glamour and excitement.

Slow Days was first published in 1977. This is from the back cover of the 2016 paperback edition:

Slow Days, Fast Compay is a full-fledged and full-bodied evocation of a bygone Southern California…. In ten sun-baked, Santa Ana wind-swept sketches, [Babitz] seduces us.

I Used To Be Charming, the collection of her journalism, might be better than Slow Days, but I bet she exaggerated there too. This time around, Eve failed to seduce.

City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles by Mike Davis

I lived in and around Los Angeles for more than 30 years. After moving “back East”, I’ve seen occasional references to this book. People say you should read it if you really want to understand Los Angeles and Southern California. Here’s what Library Journal said:

Eschewing the character study that comprises most Los Angeles history, Davis concentrates on the ongoing and ignored ethnic and class struggles, formerly manifested by booster (pro-growth) exploitation, now replaced by exclusionary (no-growth) neighborhood incorporation, and by police control of Afro-American and Latino neighborhoods. His analysis of recent Los Angeles history is often chilling and–sad to say–more true than false.

I’d say the book’s general topic is power. We learn about real estate developers, the owners of The Los Angeles Times, the repressive Los Angeles Police Department, suburban homeowner associations, overseas investors and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. We also learn about the ways neighborhoods were kept all-white and the economics of the drug trade. Hollywood doesn’t get a chapter; the blue-collar town of Fontana, with the worst smog in the region, does.

The two most remarkable aspects of the book are the tremendous level of detail on certain topics (probably more than you want to know) and the pessimistic tone. City of Quartz was first published in 1990. When you read passages like the following, it’s hard to believe the city and the rest of the metropolitan area (now home to more than 13 million people) function at all thirty years later:

In Los Angeles, there are too many signs of approaching helter-skelter: everywhere in the inner city, even in the forgotten poor-white boondocks with their zombie populations of speed freaks, gangs are multiplying at a terrifying rate, cops are becoming more arrogant and trigger-happy, and a whole generation is being shunted toward some impossible Armageddon [288].

But I guess things weren’t all bad in 1990:

Setting aside an apocalyptic awakening of the neighboring San Andreas Fault, it is all too easy to envision Los Angeles reproducing itself endlessly across the desert with the assistance of pilfered water, cheap immigrant labor, Asian capital and desperate homeowners willing to trade lifetimes on the freeway in exchange for $500,000 “dream homes” in the middle of Death Valley [10].

That’s what passes for optimism in City of Quartz.

Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz

Eve’s Hollywood is labeled as fiction but it’s hard to know how much of it’s fictional. First published in 1974, it’s written in the first person and describes the author’s life growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and her adventures as a young woman about town in the 60s. It doesn’t have a plot. It’s a series of usually brief chapters that seem almost randomly placed. We learn about Eve’s parents, her junior high and high school days in Hollywood, various friends and lovers, with stops in New York City and Rome along the way. Perhaps the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

The Eve of the novel, and probably the Eve of reality, are or were a lot of fun to be with. She communicates her love of Los Angeles and makes shrewd observations about human nature. She rhapsodizes about the taquitos you could get at Olvera Street and watching a terrific MacGillivray-Freeman surf movie at the Santa Monica Civic. She tells stories about people and places you’d have like to have known (or avoided). I doubt if some of the people she describes were as beautiful as she says, but maybe they weren’t real anyway.

Did Eve Babitz really let a guy who called himself Bummer Bob crash at her house for a few days, and later find out that he was Bobby Beausoleil, one day to be a key member of the Manson Family?

Did the three sentences that constitute the chapter called “Cary Grant” [269] actually happen?

I once saw Cary Grant up close.

He was beautiful.

He looked exactly like Cary Grant.

I’m glad her books are being reprinted. I’m looking forward to reading her second novel, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A., and a collection of her journalism, I Used To Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz. There are much worse ways a person could spend their time.

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes

Reading this book was a mistake. I saw a reference to it somewhere and discovered it was the basis for the classic 1950 movie also called In a Lonely Place. The movie starred Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame and was directed by Nicholas Ray. The main character, Dixon Steele, is a struggling Hollywood screenwriter with a bad temper who’s suspected of being a killer. In the book, Steele is a veteran with delusions of grandeur who lives off his rich uncle and kills young women for no apparent reason. Apparently, the book was one of the first depictions of the mind of a serial killer. That’s probably one reason it was included in the distinguished Library of America’s Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s. From that perspective, it was good enough. The post-war Los Angeles setting was also interesting at times (although the characters spend an awful lot of time smoking and drinking). I didn’t especially enjoy seeing the world from Dixon Steel’s perspective and mainly stuck with it out of curiosity. I wish I hadn’t.

West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein

This is an oral history of Los Angeles, especially Hollywood. It focuses on the wealthy and powerful Doheny family, Jack Warner of Warner Brothers, the troubled actress Jennifer Jones, and an unknown actress named Jane Garland. Some of it was interesting. Much of it wasn’t, which is why I didn’t read every word.