by Kyla Guilfoil, Asst. News Editor
Sitting by my open window with the first fresh breezes of spring wafting over my winter bones, I dipped my toes into the indulgent, dazzling world of Californian writer Eve Babitz. Daughter of artists, Babitz grew up in the dry glamour of Los Angeles, lavishing in the 1960s as she entered ear- ly adulthood. Her collection of semi-fictionalized memoirs, “Black Swans,” explores the 1980s and late 90s of LA and of her opulent experiences.
Notoriously resistant from face-to-face interviews with journalists, Babitz has resorted to leaving her sultry secrets on the written page. “Black Swans” follows Babitz through a series of nine short stories, opening with “Jealousy,” and finishing with the collection’s namesake, “Black Swans.”
Babitz introduces her opening story with the inde- scribable reality of the “‘mood’ of jealousy.” We slip seamlessly into the lively recollections of Babitz’s affairs, as her words paint the scene of gossiping with a friend about their troubles, while her mind actually focuses on her own relations.
From the first pages, Babitz is shameless, calling things exactly how she sees them. Throughout the collection, Babitz does not shy away from the intimate moments of her af- fairs, of the authenticity of LA, of major current events of the time, or of her most unbelievable or contentious anecdotes.
Babitz writes a love letter to LA on every page, all the while declining to hide the dark, the envious, the depressing or the problematic. She is one of the few who illuminates in the glamour of LA while also playing in its dust.
Babitz obser ves, but through her own lens. In one story, “Expensive Regrets,” Babitz has taken leave in a Los Angeles hotel, Chateau Marmont, with a lover, closing the curtains and living in a reckless bubble with them. After divulging observations and memories of a myriad of characters, Babitz narrates the casual unfolding of “The New York Times” by her lover as they realize how long they’ve been holed up, and how LA had gone up in flames while they had rolled around in their dra- matic adventure of hotel robes and room service.
Next, the reader is introduced to “Tangoland,” another deeply layered story which somehow denotes both frivolous livelihood and deep, emotional connection. Babitz falls in love with the art of tango after a performance of “Tango Argentino,” which had the power to dislodge all of the judgements she had previously harbored about the dance.
Babitz devotes years to the practice of tango, finding a small, Bolivian restaurant where she spends most nights dancing with life-long tangoers and sipping espresso. Years later, Babitz returns with a lover, where she performs her most remarkable tango after years of struggle. She writes in smooth, sexy prose, teaching the audience that real tango can not exist without sex, anger and passion.
Babitz delivers a count- less number of characters and exchanges, managing to revive old names and produce a handful of new ones with each section. The allure of the semi-fictional design itches the nose of the reader, who must live without the satisfaction of what Babitz is embellishing and what she is not.
For such a sweet talking, quick-witted woman, Babitz leaves nothing to the imagination and everything to imagination, embodying the perfect agony which comes with the glitz and grief of her home city. Perhaps that was my favorite piece of Babitz’s artistry: the ability for her to display the lavish and the indulgent spontaneity of her life, while also reflecting on moments of regret, guilt and sadness.
Babitz’s stories do not skip over her frequent, gilded drug use or the reality of failed love affairs. She is able to permit a glossy finish over a grey reality, much like her hometown often does. While Babitz seems to have an endless supply of friends and lovers, and can narrate with a voice of wit and excitement, I finish her stories with an unresolved feeling of emptiness.
After two hundred pages of anecdotes, it is uncer tain whether I understand Babitz more or less than when we started. The Hollywood blood in Babitz’s veins carries on the traditions of mystery, tragedy, and shamelessness through the prose of her hand. And yet, I would do it all over again.
Eve Babitz has the gift of the craft and seduces her readers to fall into her lap. She makes one love her, hate her, pity her and roll one’s eyes at her all within a shor t stor y. She s the essence of the American spirit to want to know every- thing, and then to judge the fact that someone has aired their dirty laundry. The paradox of her stories goes round, inviting readers to become stuck in her world just as she is.