Everlasting Eve Babitz

I wrote an introduction to an Eve Babitz Q&A published by SSENSE, which can be read here. Intro below.

The details of Eve Babitz’s life always get in the way of the real story, which is the writing itself. It’s true that her reputation precedes her—she’s dated rock stars, been called a genius by movie stars, posed nude with art stars—but it’s also true that reading her work unaware of this biography would tell you that she knows a good time better than the rest of the literary world, then and now.

Her style is, unfortunately, inimitable. It is bell-like, a higher vibration that becomes clear and profound. Her stories are like enthralling conversation, lively yet cool, seductively generous at times, at others touchingly guarded. A first sentence to a story in Slow Days, Fast Company (1977), as an example: “Ever since the Garden of Allah was torn down and supplanted by a respectable savings and loan institution, the furies and ghosts have made their way across Sunset to the Chateau Marmont.”

Eve’s work got a real second wind at the end of the 2010s, amid debates over the merits of autofiction (Eve’s Hollywood (1974) and Slow Days certainly might count, although their pseudonyms and obscured details are more often attributed to the author’s discretion, rather than overt fictionalization). It have made more sense, I think, if her writing had seen a resurgence during the 2000s, when bloggers became the new It Girls, way after Eve had mastered being the life of a party and its best documenter. It would make sense, too, if her popularity spiked again later in this decade, after a wave of homeward migration: Everything Los Angeles–born Eve has written is about L.A. in some way, and so it’s about, among other things, a hometown.

In fact, the timing of Eve Babitz’s reprisal feels arbitrary, probably because it is. Reissues by NYRB Classics (Eve’s Hollywood in 2015 and Slow Days in 2016) and Counterpoint Press (1979’s Sex and Rage: A Novel in 2017 and 1993’s Black Swans: Stories in 2018) and NYRB’s publication of I Used to be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz (2019) followed a rediscovery of sorts by the writer Lili Anolik, who, after happening upon an Eve quote in a book she can’t remember, Googled the name, in 2010.

Infatuated, and appalled by the lack of Babitz reading materials still in print, Lili hunted down Eve herself, who, she learned, had become reclusive after a near-death experience involving a lit match and nylon pantyhose in 1997. The resulting Vanity Fair story, “All About Eve—And Then Some” became the first in a series of recent celebrations of the writer everyone still wants to know.

There are way too many examples of horrible or boring people who are exciting writers and exciting people who are horrible or boring writers, and simply not enough examples of great writers who really know how to have fun. Eve is an inspiration to everyone who wants to live well and write well, an exception to most rules. Her best work shows a spontaneous personality writing in a way that doesn’t thwart spontaneity—rare proof that this is possible.