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Black Swans: Stories by Eve Babitz

Black Swans: Stories

by Eve Babitz

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Eve Babitz is a writer born and bred in L.A. She wrote exquisitely about the California lifestyle in the 70s and 80s and 90s. In the late 90s, she was horrifically burned in a fire at her home and has made a slow recovery over the past twenty years. Almost a recluse during this time, her publishers recently decided to reissue several of her books, including this delightful collection of short fiction. But is it fiction? It’s told in the first person and I got the idea that Babitz was telling her own story here. Not that it matters. She brilliantly portrays her beloved hometown on her own terms. With biting humor and an acerbic eye for detail, every cutting line adds fuel to the fire that propels the narrative forward. Whether she’s describing the AIDS epidemic, the casual drug use by Babitz and most people she came in contact with, her love of tango and learning to dance it herself, the diverse friends/lovers she managed to surround herself with, the Rodeo Gardens or a number of celebrities she just naturally hung around with, she manages to quickly draw you in. There is an obvious suggestion of the envy and jealousy underneath it all. And that’s the California Babitz loves.

I was marking passages like crazy because the writing is just so remarkable. The first page of the story titled “Slumming at the Rodeo Gardens” had me chuckling. It begins this way:

”It seems that the only people on TV who don’t dye their hair these days are recently released captives….This mentality, alas, is really bad in L.A., where the light is so pitiless….If you want to see all this striving against the ravages of being human in state-of-the-art proportions, go to the Rodeo Gardens on any Saturday afternoon; it is there that body lifts, skin peels, fat suctioning, teeth bonds and collagen flourish in the gracious noonday sun.”

California’s reputation is well-deserved I guess.

Literary references abound in this book. Apparently Babitz is just like us: a voracious reader. Proust, M.F.K. Fisher, Barbara Pym (that startled me. Only a reader like myself would mention the highly under rated Barbara Pym.), Virginia Woolf and….Joan Didion:

”I wanted to look up to and admire men, not be like Joan Didion, whose writing scared the hell out of most men I knew…Joan Didion, who knew how to wear clothes, was too brilliant and great for anyone to write like and too skinny and sultry to look like. I thought if I couldn’t be like Joan, then I’d have to be dowdy and/or crazy, like Virginia Woolf.”

I thought Babitz reminded me a little of Didion but I changed my mind. Didion never made me laugh out loud. I’ll be reading more by Eve Babitz. I’ve found a wonderful new writer who’s been writing for over thirty years. ( )
2 vote brenzi | Jun 26, 2018 |
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"Babitz's talent for the brilliant line, honed to a point, never interferes with her feel for languid pleasures." -The New York Times Book Review A new reissue of Babitz's collection of nine stories that look back on the 1980s and early 1990s-decades of dreams, drink, and glimpses of a changing world. Black Swans further celebrates the phenomenon of Eve Babitz, cementing her reputation as the voice of a generation. "On the page, Babitz is pure pleasure-a perpetual-motion machine of no-stakes elation and champagne fizz." -The New Yorker "[A] true original." -The Boston Globe "She's a natural. Or gives every appearance of being one, her writing elevated yet slangy, bright, bouncy, cheerfully hedonistic-L.A. in it purest, most idealized form." -Vanity Fair "Babitz's writing is also like the jacaranda tree in glorious bloom-bewitching an entire city, but all too brief." -Los Angeles Review of Books… (more)

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