CULTURE & ARTS

This Forgotten Book From The '70s Is Your New Feminist Manifesto

Meet Eve Babitz, a writer who wears her sexuality on her fur-coated sleeve.

When her flavor of the month, a man she likens to a Greek god, marvels at her voluptuousness, Eve Babitz dismisses him confidently, but not unkindly. “Any old fool could want to sleep with me,” she says. “I mean look at me, the only thing one can think about me is sex.”

It’s a quote characteristic of Babitz’s writing style: wry, forthright, and unapologetically self-aware. Her novel, Slow Days Fast Company: The World, the Flesh and L.A., skirts the line between fiction and memoir. It’s written in a diaristic style, chronicling love affairs, fast friendships, and quotidian outings to bars and baseball games. But her observations, while personal, aren’t meandering. There’s an intricate structure lacing each entry together. Memories of past romances ripple into new ones, and her biting, Dorothy Parker-like humor persists throughout. 

Like Marilyn Monroe, whom she idolizes, Babitz irreverently embraces her sexuality, using it as a tool while thinking of it as inextricably linked to her personality. In this way, her writing is very much of its time and place – Los Angeles in the ‘70s. That’s when much of her writing was originally published, eventually falling out of print before it was recently resurrected by the New York Review of Books.

There are a few good reasons for revisiting Babitz, who’s been compared to a swath of influential women as varied as Andy Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick and fellow California chronicler Joan Didion, whom Babitz knew, read and admired.

One is the simple fact of her storied life: the daughter of an artist and a violinist, she ran in artistic circles, gaining notoriety after a picture was taken of her playing chess with Marcel Duchamp, completely naked, at age 20.

More interesting, though, is Babitz’s writing style, which feels tonally similar to today’s confessional blogging and the fiction it has inspired. Her hilarious take-down of baseball before finding herself immersed in the game in spite of herself, would make sense on Gawker (RIP). It’s critical, a little smug, personal, and uses a specific situation to illustrate a larger picture — in this case, the queasy appeal of old-fashioned American values.

When her date is in the middle of mansplaining the sport, telling her which team they’re there to root for, she writes, “’My team?’ I almost scoffed. I mean, I’ll go along with him to a baseball game gracefully, but he didn’t expect me to take sides, did he?” But, she observes, “The tension in baseball comes in spurts between long waits where everyone can forget about it, a perfectly lifelike rhythm.”

Babitz writes with the same insight and humor about Los Angeles, which she defends as more complex than its shallow reputation; sex, which she says is an act of genius on par with any work of art; and beauty — her own — which she attributes to a meticulous makeup regimen. “Without rouge I am nothing,” she confesses before recommending her favorite brand. “It makes most people look like they’ve just stepped out of an English landscape one hundred years ago.”

In fact, Babitz seems to have a fixation with skin, both in a literal sense, and, perhaps, as a metaphor. Her attractiveness, like her writing, and like the lives of those inhabiting the shimmering city she represents, may look easy, but it’s actually the result of a deliberately planned performance.

What we think:

Babitz’s slim novel will transport you to its sunny setting, by virtue of the author’s love for and immersion in the place. Her insights are shared offhandedly, showing her effortless, if glib, intellect. Read this book if you want to laugh, and laugh again later when recalling certain lines. 

What other reviewers think:

Vanity Fair: “Eve had what artist Chris Blum dubbed ‘major radar,’ a sort of next-order intuition that allowed her to see connections and affinities between people and things that others couldn’t, not until she brought them together. 

Who wrote it:

Eve Babitz is a novelist who wrote wryly and prolifically about her home, Los Angeles, in the ‘70s. Her book Slow Days, Fast Company was out of print until it was recently reissued. 

Who will read it:

Those interested in writing with a confessional tone, funny stories, or stories about California. Those interested in bold women writers who write unabashedly about womanhood. 

Opening lines:

“This was a love story and I apologize; it was inadvertent. But I want it clearly understood from the start that I don’t expect it to turn out well.” 

Notable passage:

“I did not become famous but I got near enough to smell the stench of success. It smelt like burnt cloth and rancid gardenias, and I realized that the truly awful thing about success is that it’s held up all those years as the thing that would make everything all right. And the only thing that makes things even slightly bearable is a friend who knows what you’re talking about.”

Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A.
by Eve Babitz
New York Review of Books
Reissued Aug. 30, 2016

The Bottom Line is a weekly review combining plot description and analysis with fun tidbits about the book.

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