"On the one hand, how great, new fans for Eve, and who cares if they were fans for the wrong reasons, and is there such a thing as a wrong reason, and bless their ingenuous little hearts in any case. On the other hand, though, Jesus fucking Christ. And as they talked, I'd nod and make appropriate remarks, all the while internally sighing and muttering sarcastic comments to myself. Because unh-uh, because give me a break, because absolutely not. Eve is nothing like Darren Star's heroine, a tough cookie with a gooey marshmallow center. Eve's sleep-around, troublemaker front is real. There's no doe-eyed snookums looking for the right fella behind it, no twinkling heart of gold. She isn't an Every Girl, or relatable--the opposite. She's about as far out as you can get: an existential outlaw plus a demon plus an artist. Straight down the line."
It's so interesting to me that Anolik opens this book with a clarification that it's not exactly a ("traditional") biography -- and her argument as to why is certainly sufficient, even justifiable... when it turns out to be one of the most fulfilling and clear-eyed biographies I can recall reading, and on such a thorny, elusive subject at that. I adore Eve Babitz, just as Anolik does, though I'll never know her personally, as she does, and I'm even less objective about Babitz's works than Anolik is; she's able to admit up front to not particularly caring for two of Eve's most famous four works, a point on which we diverge, though I see her points. But that's neither here nor there. She delivers a fantastic portrait of a somewhat infamous -- while still being lesser known than she deserves (though, due to recent reissues -- and thanks in some part to Anolik herself, and her Vanity Fair piece that helped set that ball rolling, too -- that is finally changing) -- near-recluse, though one who captured the true spirit of Los Angeles better than any other writer I've yet read. Babitz achieves this in part because she's never able to depersonalize it; every Babitz "novel" or story collection is really at least semi-, if not fully, autobiography, over and over, and she's completely unapologetic about it. Similarly, though Anolik begins with the confession that she's grown too close to her subject for this biography to fully qualify, she never lets herself off the hook as one might expect. She still sees and examines Eve, and her works, exactly as she is, and they are, and we're all included like another listener in on the process, and all the better illuminated for it.
This book also delivers the deconstruction and de-mythologizing of Joan Didion I never even knew I wanted so badly, until I finally read it here; it explains at last exactly why, no matter how great Didion is (and she is undoubtedly great), her attitude and writing on Los Angeles, which she staunchly looked sideways and down her nose at, has always left me so cold. Eve is a wrecking ball force contained within a single woman; wrapped up in all her errors in judgment, her drinking and drugging, her infamous love affairs, her several other aborted artistic careers, her dismissals and fascinations... that is the Los Angeles I know and love, and call my home, even though I never have (and never will) live a life anything like hers. (Will any other woman? Doubtful. She is singular, yet her works are near-universally appealing, which is what makes her so brilliant. Her secret is sharing as many of hers as she deems worthy of revealing, which is most of them, and so she makes us all her confidante, enhances all our lives through them, no matter how far apart from her locale or her moment we'll always be.)
Most of all, I treasure this book for revealing so much more behind the iconic LA woman, and that of her that's revealed through her own works, as Babitz's work -- coming into my life as I've created my own hard-won home, as a very different sort of artist, in the Los Angeles of now (which both never could be, yet simultaneously always will be, Eve's LA) -- has been revelatory to me unlike that of any other writer. I'll always wish I could write like her, though I never will, nor should anyone bother to attempt it. I'll just have to settle for re- (and re-re-, and so on) reading her, armed now with more to appreciate behind her words and stories than ever before. They were already special to me, but they've grown more so for reading this. If that's non-traditional biography, I'm very satisfied to be not at all a traditional reader.