LOS ANGELES by David Rieff


Capital of the Third World
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 Ambitious in both style and substance, Rieff's second major book on a US metropolis (Going to Miami, 1987) attempts to resolve the contradictions of L.A. by proclaiming it the Third World's capital. It's a hard sell, but Rieff does create a memorable sermon on the myopia afflicting the middle and upper classes in southern California, who seem desperately unaware of their city's decline. This is a book about gardeners, real estate, and cars: in other words, about immigration, diminishing expectations, and social and cultural gridlock. The author, a full-blown intellectual of the New York-Paris axis, has his cosmopolitan way with that most rigorous and decadent of places. He seems to mean his book to be both serious and droll, as well as a stylistic tour de force, and he comes close on all three aims. But this is also an exercise in aggravation. There's Rieff's overdependence on his ``good friend Allegra,'' a BMW-driving Everywoman, plus his unfortunate penchant of condescending to the Third World help (``...when the conversation turned, as it did so often in bourgeois America in 1989 and 1990, to the collapse of the Soviet empire, I would slip into the kitchen and talk to the maid...[where] the Rosa or Maria...in question would tell me stories about home''). Lapsing into a faux-L.A. tone, at times the author achieves the very banality he seeks to parody. Another flaw is an indistinct focus-- he makes sweeping statements about the City of Los Angeles (where ``most whites had long ago abandoned the public schools'') that simply aren't true of the much larger Los Angeles County. Yet there's much to be grateful for as well: an ambitious prose style, a thorough historical buildup that does justice to L.A.'s elusive yet crucial spirit, and a knack for the telling statistic or detail. A big book that justifies the attention Rieff has drawn, without quite earning the laurels predicted of him.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-67170-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991


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