For the last issue of the 2021-2022 school year, we talk about one of our favourite authors — Eve Babitz. We discuss her early life, summarize two of her books and explain why we love these books so much.
Babitz was born in Hollywood in 1943 and recently passed away in December of 2021. Her mother was an artist and her father was a violinist, meaning she was surrounded by art, music and other forms of culture from a young age.
During her youth, Babitz frequented the famous West Hollywood nightclub — the Troubadour — meeting all sorts of characters (famous and ordinary alike), forming connections and associations with people in the art, music, film and publishing industries. During her early career in the 1960s, she designed cover art for several rock bands, going on to write essays and short stories for various magazines.
Over the course of her life, Babitz wrote eight books, but two of her most well-known books that we’ll cover here, Sex & Rage: Advice to Young Ladies Eager for a Good Time and Black Swans, were published in 1979 and 1993 respectively.
Sex & Rage
Babitz’s 1979 novel, Sex & Rage tells the story of Jacaranda Leven, a Los Angeles native who spends the majority of her free time in the ocean or painting surfboards.
Set in the 1960s, Jacaranda struggles through her 20s, trying to find her purpose and abusing alcohol to pass time. At 28 years old, Jacaranda starts a new life for herself in New York, where she’s followed by lessons and people from her past life.
If the title itself isn’t enough to convince you to read it, we guarantee that Sex & Rage is as good as it sounds.
As a work of fiction based on Babitz’s life, the protagonist, Jacaranda, is based on Babitz and the experiences she had when she was a young woman.
Jacaranda is a talented surfer, artist and writer, but also suffers from alcoholism. The character’s actions and behaviours are extremely dysfunctional. But as frustrating as this can be for the reader at times, her flaws make her endearing and her screw-ups make her relatable. Besides the characters, we love Sex & Rage because of its setting and Babitz’s writing style.
Set in 1960s Los Angeles, the decade and the location provide extra appeal to the storyline. Babitz’s writing style is one that could make even the most boring subject matter fascinating. If you like Joan Didion, you will like Eve Babitz.
Black Swans is a collection of nine short stories based in the 1980s and 1990s Los Angeles, each narrated by the author. Although each of the stories stand alone, the book has a progression that builds on each story as it follows.
The topics of the short stories range from jealousy to Babitz’s obsession with tango, with each story showing Babitz’s unique perspective on the world.
Although short stories are not typically our favourite genre to read, Babitz completely changed the game with Black Swans. Her works are technically fiction, however it is clear how significantly her own life inspired the events and characters within her storytelling. Babitz’s cool and self-assured prose is evidently the most alluring aspect of her writing.
The two stories that particularly stand out to us are “Jealousy” and “Tangoland;” once we read them, they made the entire novel a five-star read. We enjoyed how this book differs from the rest of her works. Babitz shows a passionate and focused side of her, which had remained hidden before she became sober.