With the downscaling of L.A.'s image, will more writers set aside their high expectations and dig for drama beneath the dream? This survey of fiction suggests that some of them are already doing just that. Many writers are beginning to see Los Angeles as a gigantic "lost and found": Their characters are lost when they arrive, even more lost after living here. But ultimately they find something that had been missing in their lives.
In Marti Leimbach's "Sun Dial Street," a young man who follows his family west is eventually pulled into their chaotic, dangerous lives. But he emerges with renewed ties to his sister and mother and even finds love here. In Susan Straight's "Aquaboogie," black characters in the depressed town of Rio Seco grapple with poverty, drug addiction and death, but they also discover the resilience of family and community. In "Pomona Queen," Kem Nunn's character Earl Dean, a bundle of canceled dreams, glimpses a way out of his overwhelming loneliness after reaching into a hellish abyss.
This new generation of authors displays a more complex view of Southern California. Francesca Lia Block is one author who managed to find something to love about L.A. by scaling back her expectations from the outset. Her message goes out in a series of novellas to the hip-adolescent set. Her 1989 "Weetzie Bat," with its bizarrely named characters and families seemingly manufactured from the neighborhood's flotsam and jetsam, is Block's punk ode to L.A. The main character, Weetzie Bat, was already warned about the place by her father, who despised it and fled back to New York: "I hate the palm trees. They look like stupid birds. Everyone lies around in the sun like dead fishes," he wrote to his sister. But Weetzie could never leave L.A., despite an open invitation to join her dad. She just couldn't bring herself to leave "where it was hot and cool, glam and slam, rich and trashy, devils and angels, Los Angeles." She had hated high school because her friends didn't get it: They didn't get L.A.:
\o7 They didn't care that Marilyn's prints were practically in their backyard at Graumann's, that you could buy\f7 . . .\o7 the wildest, cheapest cheese and bean and hot dog and pastrami burritos at Oki Dogs; that the waitresses wore skates at the Jetson-style Tiny Naylor's; that there was a fountain that turned tropical soda-pop colors, and a canyon where Jim Morrison and Houdini used to live, and all-night potato knishes at Canter's, and not too far away was Venice, with columns, and canals, even, like the real Venice but maybe cooler because of the surfers. There was no one who cared.\f7
L.A., Chapter and Verse
There are hundreds of books about this city; these are just a brief sampling of recent works that hold up a literary mirror to L.A.'s present and future.
Alex Abella, "The Killing of the Saints"
Isabel Allende, "The Infinite Plan"
Eve Babitz, "Black Swans"
James Robert Baker, "Tim and Pete"
Francesca Lia Block, "Weetzie Bat"
Kate Braverman, "Palm Latitudes" & "Wonders of the West"
Michelle T. Clinton, "Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow" from ZYZZYVA literary journal
Wanda Coleman, "A War of Eyes and Other Stories"
Michael Crichton, "Rising Sun"
Len Deighton, "Violent Ward"
Michael Drinkard, "Disobedience"
Carol Muske Dukes, "Saving St. Germ"
James Ellroy, "White Jazz"
Robert Ferrigno, "The Horse Latitudes" & "The Cheshire Moon"
William Gibson, "Virtual Light"
MacDonald Harris, "A Portrait of My Desire"
Cynthia Kadohata, "In the Heart of the Valley of Love"
Marti Leimbach, "Sun Dial Street"
Russell Leong, "Geography One" from ZYZZYVA
A.E. Maxwell, "Murder Hurts"
Walter Mosley, "Devil in a Red Dress"
Douglas Ann Munson, "El Nino"
Kem Nunn, "Pomona Queen"
Richard Powers, "Operation Wandering Soul"
John Rechy, "The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez"
Maria Reyes, "Twelve Bars Past Goodnight" from ZYZZYVA
Carolyn See, "Making History"
John Shirley, short story "Jody and Annie on TV" from "New Noir"
Charlie Smith, "Chimney Rock"
Roberta Smoodin, "White Horse Cafe"
Susan Straight, "Aquaboogie"
Erika Taylor, "The Sun Maiden"
Michael Tolkin, "The Player" & "Among the Dead"
Jane Vandenburgh, "Failure to Zigzag"
Joseph Wambaugh, "The Big Orange"