Somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3.0, this was a bit of an odd one, but entertaining enough for a light read that I stayed with it, because, what the hecSomewhere between a 2.5 and a 3.0, this was a bit of an odd one, but entertaining enough for a light read that I stayed with it, because, what the heck. Author Jean Stein chose five former residents of Los Angeles and compiled interviews of friends, relatives and associates to paint partial portraits of the subjects’ lives and characters. The subjects are oil magnate Edward Doheny, movie mogul Jack Warner, a schizophrenic heiress named Jane Garland, actress Jennifer Jones, and the author/editor’s father Jules Stein, founder of Music Corporation of America, that later became MCA Universal.
Mostly it was very gossipy, with some interesting tidbits, but unremarkable overall. The subtitle “An American Place” was misleading, as the stories did not really illuminate anything about the place (Los Angeles) beyond a stereotypical and clichéd concern with money, power and celebrity. I would recommend this only for those looking for very light entertainment or with an interest in minutiae about the lives of these particular five people and their inner circles. There was some discussion of the political and business climate during the lives of the subjects and how these events impacted their lives, such as the Tea Pot Dome Scandal, the House Un-American Activities Committee and Hollywood blacklisting, gangsters and the mob-controlled businesses in Chicago, and the appallingly lax ethics of some psychoanalysts. But primarily it was about the personalities.
I did enjoy some of the stories, such as the one about elderly millionaire Norton Simon (Jennifer Jones' third husband) chasing his stepson down the hall in a wheel chair, “barking at me like a wild German shepherd” because he disagreed with a decision the man was making about his own independent business, and some of the comments, such as following remark by Barbara Warner Howard (one of Jack Warner’s daughters):
During the war, our bomb shelter was behind the projection room. It must have had at least twelve bunk beds, because you couldn’t let the servants die—they were hard to find during the war.
"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings."
No one who likes m"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings."
No one who likes mysteries / crime novels should be put off reading this by my 3 stars. I am just not a mystery/crime novel person. I do appreciate Chandler enormously for the atmosphere he creates, the descriptions of old Los Angeles and, of course, his terse style full of startling but effective similes, hyperbole and other rhetorical devices that achieve his famously sardonic effect. It’s a style much imitated, but one never equaled in that particular way for the past 80 years, and it may not ever be. ...more
Argh! I don’t know which storyline of this book was more depressing: Rose’s drug habit, her willing victimization by her narcissistic boyfriend, or heArgh! I don’t know which storyline of this book was more depressing: Rose’s drug habit, her willing victimization by her narcissistic boyfriend, or her anguish at watching her father being slowly chipped away by cancer and surgeries. There were some interesting themes about family, heritage, memory, and damaged people, all told in Kate Braverman’s usual florid language. However, while I have enjoyed her nearly over-the-top poetic style in other books, this was her first novel and I think she had not yet learned to calibrate the excessive, almost baroque use of language that can be, when held just at the edge of almost-too-much, quite stunning. Here it sometimes seemed self-indulgent and so took me out of the story while I was wading through it.
I still liked the book moderately well and toward the end I enjoyed being able to root for Rose, as much of a mess as she was. But I would not recommend this one as a starting point for dipping into Braverman’s work. Begin instead with Palm Latitudes or her short stories in Squandering the Blue. ...more
Where you’re from and what you look like might not be who you are.
Avery Arlington, a black girl originally from South L.A. and WThree and 3/4 stars.
Where you’re from and what you look like might not be who you are.
Avery Arlington, a black girl originally from South L.A. and West Covina, grows into a university-educated artist, marries a very successful Italian immigrant businessman, and comes to live in the Hollywood Hills, while staying in touch with her white wild-child girlhood best friend Brenna and a ne’er-do-well cousin. Alternating chapters flash back to her childhood, episodes that illustrate the rural simplicity of her Tennessee-bred parents, their work ethic, hopes for their family, and pride, and the difficulties of escaping the constrictions of stereotypes. The chapters dealing with her childhood are told in dialect inherited from her family, but as the narration tracks her adolescence and adulthood, the voice shifts to a more conventional English as she learns to assimilate, even while trying to find a balance in maintaining her own identity.
When Brenna objects to her listening to Michael Jackson, Avery defends him: “So I let him sing his song. Maybe, if he hadn’t hated himself for looking the way he did. Maybe if he had someone telling him before, earlier, before he ever got on a stage, something different about himself. Maybe then he wouldn’t have tried to move bone and skin and hair into shapes and textures and colors that he thought made him better. Or maybe, if he just could have been all of that, mixed up, in peace, weird and black in the first place. I tell Brenna all of this as we’re driving down the hill.”
The younger Avery considers herself a master of blending in, not making waves, but as she grows up, she begins realizing the value of unusual combinations, of doing things in a wholly original way, and that, rather than trying to keep people and things in their own little boxes, mixing thing up, in life, as in art, expands their potential exponentially. In keeping with her artist’s sensibility, she knows that to know things as they really are, one has to really look, to really see, and that the juxtaposition of disparate things and people and ideas can only have a liberating effect. Through her art she is able to express herself as a unique individual and resist the pigeon-holing that society is all too ready to inflict on her as a black woman.
About Brenna, she says, “She doesn’t understand that she had a luxury, as little as she and her family had. She had the luxury of not having to listen to all the voices [cousin] Keith and I had to. I didn’t think I could afford to ignore the voices. They were everywhere, all the time, but I found help, a place to put the voices, a way to turn them into something I was saying back.”
Angelenos will enjoy Avery’s localized descriptions. Her love for the Dodgers and Vin Scully are almost palpable, and her descriptions of Palm Springs (college spring break! Woo hoo!) reflect a first-time visitor’s common reaction to the stark beauty of the desert. And for anyone who grew up in the ‘70s, the song lyrics strewn liberally throughout the book are fun, some of them bringing melodies into my head that hadn’t been there for years.
Music resonates throughout, as do ideas about the complex interrelated values of different types of work and money (commerce vs creativity), race and class, identity and conformity, and the power of society’s expectations to shape us. Avery is able to resist the voices that might have derailed her, as they do other characters, and to have the courage to be herself, through her connections with family, friends and the power of her art. ...more
I'll call this a 3.5. I didn't care for the first couple of stories, but the later ones were better and the whole enterprise grew on me as I went alonI'll call this a 3.5. I didn't care for the first couple of stories, but the later ones were better and the whole enterprise grew on me as I went along. Favorites were: "What I Saw From Where I Stood," which was previously published in The New Yorker and BASS 2001, so there's that; "Gunsmoke," also from The New Yorker; "Falling Bodies," and "The Passenger." All are set in Los Angeles and it's always fun to read of locations, especially micro-locations such as a specific intersection or landmark that I know, that let me picture the neighborhood and its atmosphere so precisely. ...more
Although mine is the 1994 edition which I have had for many years, this is still my favorite L.A. architectural reference. Heard Robert Winter, co-autAlthough mine is the 1994 edition which I have had for many years, this is still my favorite L.A. architectural reference. Heard Robert Winter, co-author, speak once, which was fun. ...more
I am not the audience for this book. However, I did find many parts of it oddly entertaining, the way that gossipy accounts of other people’s dysfunctI am not the audience for this book. However, I did find many parts of it oddly entertaining, the way that gossipy accounts of other people’s dysfunction and high drama can be. Punk rocker/filmmaker/sometime temp and usually broke Jason Maddox narrates in a very casual and conversational tone his adventures with various, often oddball, friends, lovers, band-mates and an agoraphobic retired music idol, through the landscapes of New York, Los Angeles, and Belgrade. The characters who populate this novel, New Yorkers, Angelenos, and a sizeable contingent of Serbs who are Jason’s girlfriend's friends and family, were really very well-drawn, especially the weird and doomed best friend Peewee. And I enjoyed, of course, the travels around Los Angeles, the references to recognizable street names (Franklin and Bronson), restaurants (Taix) and outlying regions (Rancho Cucamonga). Yes, for those of you who are non-locals, there really is a Rancho Cucamonga. ...more