Short, spoiled and operatic is the 14 year old Persian Jewess who charms Gabe, the poor little rich foundling now living with Peter and Rena Decker. Gabe is a little lovable, a little weird, and very horny. But he is also a musical prodigy, with the lean blonde wits of his assassin father — the unforgettable and immemorial Chris Donatti. Once upon a time, long long ago, Chris Donati also went to highschool in L.A., fell in love in L.A., got in trouble in L.A.
Today L.A. is full of over-monied teenagers with guns, some suicidal, or maybe not. In between the clumsy romantic gropings of Gabe and his sobbing Persian Jewess are the good, old police investigations of Marge and Oliver, a little older, a little tired, a little weepy themselves. Are the high-school suicides really suicides? The whodunit falls by the wayside, unfortunately, and neither the fascinating Donatti nor his curious son can mobilize by this L.A. West Side story.
What starts up as an Insider’s Guide to storage in L.A. develops into a diary by Holden Caulfield’s bitch-sister, grown up into another alienated and out of joint L.A. wife.
Judith was a thoroughly unpleasant daughter with a borderline personality disorder of a father who grew tomatoes in Nebraska and a mother in Vermont who collected nasty pronouncements about marriage in general and her father in particular. (“Our marriage, like all marriages, was happy until it wasn’t.” “Your father seemed happiest living in the rooms the rest of us weren’t permitted to enter.”)
Today Judith is a thoroughly unpleasant and increasingly dissociated wife who believes that her husband is having an affair with his fastidious secretary Miss Metcalfe.
By Chapter Ten, Judith has decided to move into her storage space, along with her old furniture, an identity named “Edie Winks” and her fantasies of an old beau in Rufus Sage, Nebraska…
The story flickers back and forth between the teenage Judith and the Judith in storage, much like Judith herself flickers on and off between emotional positions, postures, roles.
The first murder victim is a horror list of character flaws with L.A. citizenship:
1. She could not be bothered to make the car payments on the first of each month, even though her parents took care of the down payment.
2. She lives in a dump in Sherman Oaks but she tells everyone she lives in Van Nuys.
3. She teeters out of a bar at 3 in the morning and can’t find her car in the parking lot — but it is not her fault — why don’t they put lights in the parking lot?
4. She runs out of gas on a freeway because she can’t be bothered to check the gas, or plan anything in advance.
Everything good comes together in this slow moving L.A. smoothie with the wizened, reflective, and much humbled Harry Bosch. Gone is the bull in the china shop attitude, the stubborn in your face overconfidence. In its place is the humility that comes from being too old or at least older than one’s culture,
If ever there was a language of L.A., a language in which each noun, common or proper, is localized, dated, and cast in a Hollywood movie, it is the language of James M. Cain. And if Cain’s L.A. had a voice, she would sound like Christine Williams. She doesn’t sing, but she could be singing; she doesn’t hawk her words, but she could be a crier of the news that books hold; she doesn’t broadcast, but she could be advertising baby food or soap; or she could be doing all of these things. In her voice vibrates the radio hysteria of the 1920s, showy, fluttery, stagy, but fundamentally sweet and pure and hopeful. Indeed, it is the voice of a big country, of big spaces, with lots of land to cross, lots of square footage. Even indoors.
And so when Cain describes L.A., he talks about Glendale. The overspill. The life just outside the borders, looking in. As if all L.A. was really outside L.A., looking in.
The bathroom that he now whistled in was a utile jewel: it was in green tile and white tile, it was as clean as an operating room, everything was in its proper place and everything worked.
And before there were California girls, there were California women. They wore aprons over dresses, slips and stockings, they walked on pumps and pinned up their hair, even at home. They decorated cakes and cooked proper dinners, from scratch. They knew how to run a household and how to save money and how to mend things that broke. They had names like Mildred. And husbands like Pierce.
It is not obvious that what happens to English in L.A. is natural, because what is natural in California is not natural anywhere else. But if nature is not local, what is? What localizes language? Why does Hollywood Nate understand another cop who asks him whether an Indian girl is feather or dot?
Couples. Kellerman’s shrink narrator is full of meticulous, obsessive, data-driven characterizations of L.A. couples and couplings. Milos and Rick, for instance.
Rick gets his hair trimmed every two weeks at a high priced West Hollywood salon. Milos drives every two months to La Brea and Washington where he hands his 7 bucks + tip to an 89 year old barber who claims to have cut Eisenhower’s hair during World War II.
What makes a couple couple in L.A? What makes couples live and die in L.A. — as couples? Consider Alex Delaware and his exes. They come, they go, they come back, they go….
L.A. kills couples, sometimes permanently.