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Reviews 363 Oakland. Kilgore enters his friend’s silent apartment and finds him on the livingroom floor with a bullet hole in the back of his head. This friend, Tom Blackwell, had a double career. A frequent traveller in Latin America, he trafficked in cocaine. But he was a biologist by training, with a special interest in herpetology—frogs, snakes, turtles, lizards, sala­ manders. Before long Kilgore discovers that a rare and as yet unrecorded species of salamander—The Turquoise Dragon—has been found in a remote north county canyon, one that local developers would like to see dammed and filled with water. The trouble is, this discovery doesn’t fit with what Kilgore knows about the region’s climate patterns. Blackwell had been active in a movement to save this canyon. So perhaps the salamanders were planted, as an environmentalists’sploy. Or perhaps not. It is one of several leads that send Kilgore speeding up and down the high­ ways and logging roads between Oakland and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, just above the Oregon border, where he catches up with Blackwell’s ex-wife and, later, where the tale reaches its nightmarish finale. JAMES D. HOUSTON University of California, Santa Cruz Los Angeles in Fiction. Edited by David Fine. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985. 262 pages, $9.95.) Judging from the rhetoric in Mayor Tom Bradley’s latest inaugural speech, Los Angeles is on the verge of yet another boom cycle, this time based on the city’s potential hegemony in the Pacific Rim economy. Land, oil, and the movies have figured in past Los Angeles booms. In Los Angeles in Fiction, editor David Fine contends that rejection of the boom mentality and its concomitant myth of paradise is at the heart of the city’s literary tradition: For West, Cain, Fitzgerald, McCoy and others, Los Angeles could not serve as setting for the regenerative possibilities of Amer­ ica. The dream, if it once had potency, was behind them. Writing against the myth of El Dorado, they transformed it into its antithesis: that of the dream running out along the California shore. Collec­ tively, the thirties writers superimposed upon the original myth what has been called the Los Angeles Anti-Myth. The tension between myth and anti-myth, between Southern California as the place of the fresh start and as the scene of the disastrous finish, recurs in almost all the fiction. The intensity of the disappointment of some of these writers is related to the fact that many of them came from elsewhere, frequently drawn to the city to work for the film industry. Charles L. Crow aptly points out in one of the collected essays that it is important to consider the idealizing projections cast upon California by non-Anglo groups, such as “the Chinese version of Gold Mountain” and “the mythic Aztlan of the Chicano.” 364 Western American Literature Nathanael West, Raymond Chandler, and Joan Didion seem to be the writers whose work strikes the deepest chord in the critics here. But Los Angeles in Fiction is chock-full of off-beat surprises. Fine contributes some first-rate scholarship on thirties “tough guy” writers James M. Cain and Horace McCoy. It’s a blast of fresh air to encounter an entire chapter on Oscar Zeta Acosta’sbarrio novel The Revolt of the Cockroach People. Walter Wells offers a sophisticated analysis of the expatriate British perspective on anti-myth in the Los Angeles novels of Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh. There’seven some mention of relatively unknown but significant local writers like Marc Norman and Hisaye Yamamoto. Drawbacks include the absence of discussion of the work of strong regional contenders like John Fante and Carolyn See, or of even one black writer. Paul Skenazy’s two essays on Los Angeles detective fiction are so good that I wish he had written the one on screenwriter Robert Towne as well. Skenazy reveals both the deep structures and the artistry of the classic and not-so-classic novels he examines. His mastery makes one impatient with the undertone of moral absolutism that mars Liahna K. Babener’s chapter on Towne’sfilm Chinatown. Babener’spresentation of Towne as a...


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pp. 363-364
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