You Think It, I’ll Say It – 4/5 Stars
You’ll see in my second review here that I was going to start this one off with a book I really didn’t like, but then luckily I read a book I really did like. Curtis Sittenfeld rubs people the wrong way sometimes and she also sometimes rubs people the right way. I think a major reason for this is that this book is a pretty accurate portrayal of middle-class whiteness without apology toward or away from the centrality of that whiteness. It’s not a woke book, but it’s also not an apology. What that means for me is that is a book that is severe and also savage in its honesty at times, without being fakely and falsely effacing. I think white people are having a real hard time simply allowing themselves to be in the world without either apologizing for everything or refusing to apologizing for anything and this book is good at being in the middle of all that.
The stories here are otherwise great middle-class takedowns trying to figure out what it means to be someone who is self-aware of middle-class white privilege and write stories about middle-class white privilege from a space of middle class white privilege without starting every single sentence with about eight layers of context.
These are also stories about marriage, about being in one’s 40s, about life and death and children. I often found myself seeing myself here and laughing and cringing a lot. Very rarely did the writing ever make me think too much about the writing, just the ideas and characters.
Black Swans – 2/5 Stars
This book leads me to believe that Eve Babitz is a little much. This has a particular tone and feel to it, and the stories here are sometimes fine, and often annoying in some ways. For one, this book is trying so hard to be a thing. It’s screaming LOS ANGELES at the top of its lungs in a way to try to capture the city in the way that someone might scream NEW YORK, but it doesn’t feel particularly fetching in that way. Also, there’s a famous picture of Eve Babitz playing chess nude with Marcel Duchamps, and that’s what this book feels like: naked chess with Marcel Duchamps, who is already so a on the nose tryhard with a lot of his writing. There’s very little elegance and no grace in this writing, and some parts of it are bad. There’s a story that starts off in such a groaningly falsely clever way that I actively lamented their being 30 more pages after that first sentence. That sentence was something like: The layout of Los Angeles was like epilepsy these days….with malls both grand and petit. I was literally like….oh go fuck off. So, these stories come on strong. I can imagine you’re going to either really love them and hate them, and that’s better than stories having no presence, but it’s a hard pass for me. It’s a reprint of a collection from the early 90s and I think the stories go back farther than that, but the reprint feels more about Eve Babitz having a moment right now than a real need to revisit these.