Author: A.M. Homes
Publisher: National Geographic
Source: Personal purchase
The surreal City of Angels is a unique amalgam of past and present, tradition and revolution, dreamscape and reality. Whether in history books or on the silver screen, the Los Angeles landscape has long served as an ever-shifting backdrop against which countless American anxieties and aspirations play out. New York-based novelist and short-story writer A. M. Homes distills the elusive, quixotic splendor of this most beguiling of great American cities. She checks us into the famed hotel Chateau Marmont and uses life at this iconic landmark as a multifaceted prism through which to view and experience Los Angeles culture, past and present.
Built in the 1920s, the Chateau Marmont is where the famous and infamous have always come to stay— for a few days or months at a time—and sometimes, to die.
In case you missed me mentioning this before, here it is again: I am in love with A.M. Homes. Lost Angeles: People, Places and the Castle on the Hill had been sitting on my shelf for quite a while, and I threw it in my backpack while going off to visit my parents in November. I had to hit the road early so I wouldn’t hit the insane city traffic, then my flight was delayed, and before I knew it, I’d finished reading it. This was also mostly due to my curiosity in why Homes was interested in LA of all places.
Here’s how the book came to be written: National Geographic approached homes and told her to pick anywhere in the world to go. All she had to do in return was to write about it, and she chose Los Angeles. I know from having read most of her work that her main focus in her stories is American culture, family values and relationships. That’s why it wasn’t a big surprise for me when I found out she chose a place within the United States. Homes explored the City of Angeles through the eyes of an outsider, a visitor.
One of the reasons why I love Homes so much is her ability as an observer. This also reflects in the book Los Angeles. While there, Homes stayed at the Chateau Marmont, famous for hosting famous guests from rock stars to writers to artists, among who are James Dean, Hunter S. Thompson, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jim Morrison. As you must have guessed by now, Homes chooses this hotel for this very reason and she includes a big chunk of the hotel’s history in her book. You also read about the interviews she conducted with the people she met there.
If I had to narrow it down to a single sentence, I’d say Los Angeles is about Chateau Marmont and earthquakes.
As you know, Los Angeles is a city famous with its earthquakes. As someone who’s lives through the ’99 Marmara earthquake in Turkey, I was very interested. Homes finds a scholar who specializes in earthquakes and asks him everything one can think of. For example, she asks him if there’s any way to foresee a big earthquake and warn people about it. He says yes, but only a few seconds before it happens. Even in the best case scenario, people would have 20 seconds tops to get the hell out of their homes. And because people who study earthquakes can’t really perform experiments in appropriate scales, every earthquake is an experiment for them, and they’re still learning. It makes you uncomfortable thinking about it, no?
I can sum it up like this: if you want to read about the “magic” of Los Angeles, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re interested in things I’ve mentioned above or you enjoy Homes’s work, then you will want to pick this one up.