Black Swans is a collection of nine stories that look back on the 1980s and early 1990s—decades of dreams, drink, and stoned youth turning Republican. Babitz prowls California, telling tales of a changing world. She writes about the Rodeo Gardens, about AIDS, about learning to tango, about the Hollywood Cemetery, about the self-enchanted city, and, most important, about the envy and jealousy underneath it all.
Babitz’s inimitable voice propels these stories forward, corralling everything that gets in their way: sex, rage, the Château Marmont, youth, beauty, Jim Morrison, men, women, and black swans. This exciting reissue further celebrates the phenomenon of Eve Babitz, cementing her reputation as the voice of a generation.
Why should you read this book?
I have to admit that until I read Sex and Rage, Eve Babitz was unknown to me. After reading it, I had that magical and transcendental feeling that I had just discovered an unforgettable and unique writer. Black Swans: Stories left me with no doubt: I am sold.
But who is Eve Babitz? Born in Hollywood, in 1943, Babitz is an American author and artist. Los Angeles plays a main role in her fictive memoirs, but so do the men, the artists, and the drugs. And, if we’re talking men, we should just mention that Jim Morrison was one of her many lovers.
Black Swans: Stories, published in 1993, is a collection of brilliant short stories. Babitz explored the modern society of Los Angeles and its beauty and rottenness. Through her honesty, sensitivity and her singular sense of humour, the author wrote about the human condition.
In stories like “Jealousy” and “Free Tibet”, Babitz dealt with our most profound flaws. I asked myself: “how can we be so flawed, so blind, so mean and so self-absorbed…?” “Slumming at the Rodeo Gardens” and “Self-Enchanted City” portray the vanity of Los Angeles and brings into discussion what Babitz calls the ‘self-enchantment’ and the ‘self-enchanted people’. According to her, “Hollywood is a fiction that happened, a tornado of fabrication, a comedy of publicity. (…) Whatever it is, it’s not over yet. Not yet”.
One of my favourite stories is “Black Swans”. What a standout! In this text, Babitz is hopelessly in love with a writer called Walter and is as close to getting married as she would ever be. However, after a magazine that rejected his stories buys one of hers, he abandons Babitz. Although she reconsiders the moment she sent the piece more than once, she had decided she would “become art, not decoration”.
And, in spite of all the plights and the nasty people, Eve Babtiz has always envisioned life like a tango (“Tangoland”). After all, we just can’t turn to mush, we cannot leave, we must stay and resist. I had this constant feeling like Babitz was this older and wiser sister, teaching and revealing me the amazing secrets of life. She doesn’t mind rottenness and impoliteness. She thrives on that and transforms it into beauty, into experience, into learning, into literature, into art.
I also think Eve Babitz knows how to start a short story as few writers do. The beginning of her texts are poetic, beautiful and simple. But all of her writing is, after all. In Black Swans: stories, her words exude wisdom and clarity. Even if sometimes she is insecure, Babitz knows herself. Her sobriety suits her so well.
Eve Babitz became one of my muses, undoubtedly, and one of my favourite female writers. There was this moment, she mentioned that when we admire an author, we think we become that same author; we believe we wrote ourselves those words. Oh my, didn’t I feel this with both of her books…?
Lastly, I’d like to thank Counterpoint for the galley.
“But the trouble with life is, just when you think you’re having a happy ending, things are changing, because there are no endings except death.”
Published on: April 2018