why the writer in me likes LA

From Amy Wilentz’s I FEEL EARTHQUAKES MORE OFTEN THAN THEY HAPPEN: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger:

Noir came early and naturally to this sunny place, even before [Nathaniel] West’s THE DAY OF THE LOCUST and the 1940s. [Edmund] Wilson himself mentions the grisly [Charles Manson] murders just after writing about the loveliness of the state, or “this country,” as he calls California: “A silver-filamented stream — the metallic dark green orange-orbed orange groves — the dry fragrance from the warm eternal noon…”

It’s brazen, and admirable, in a God-tormented sort of way, that a place should have all that good healthy light (“the West Coast has the sunshine…”) and all those waving palm trees, deep green canyons, all those blondes, that promise of Paradise, orange and lemon groves, bumblebees, hummingbirds, high chaparral, horses, cypress, bougainvillea tumbling over walls and down the hillsides, and be, at the same time, and nonchalantly, a geological cauldron, a cultural vacuum*, and a pit of sin, pollution, and deadly avarice. Not bad. All places where humans live are pits of sin, of course, but not all of them look — or at least, looked — like Eden.

Now noir is just another cliche about LA. And yet almost seventy years after THE DAY OF THE LOCUST was published, the dark heart is still passionate and seductive.

* Can’t speak so much for the past but now, at least, I don’t agree with this and I think this is where the author’s New York bias is particularly evident, falling back on that old bimbo stereotype of LA. Fact is, when a city acts as such a powerful magnet for some of the most talented, creative, brilliant people in the country — as well as the callous, the predatorial, and the young innocent/ignorant hopefuls who would rather try to Make It Big then read a book or go to college — you actually are going to get some kind of culture. You actually are going to get some kind of literary scene. You have to look and work harder for it, due to the fragmented and sprawling body of the city, where neighborhoods become like little islands bridged by a network of freeways, but it’s there, and it’s more interesting than so many people are willing to give it any credit for being. People seem to want LA to be the Great Blonde Bimbo of the west. If the city didn’t exist, they’d go and invent it that way. They do enough inventing already: something about this city inspires that.


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