Hero worship meets compelling biography in Vanity Fair contributing editor Anolik’s (Dark Rooms, 2015) nonfiction debut.
A cultural fixture in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ’70s, Eve Babitz (b. 1943) eclipsed the label of groupie. She was a socialite who managed to intertwine herself with Steve Martin, Warren Zevon, Jim Morrison, Yoko Ono, and Andy Warhol, a Hollywood High graduate–turned-author whose teen years defined her writing. She was well-known but also dismissed by some, including novelist Julia Whedon: “I discern in Babitz the soul of a columnist, the flair of a caption writer, the sketchy intelligence of a woman stoned on trivia.” However, Anolik shows that Whedon was shortchanging the woman who famously posed nude over a chessboard with Marcel Duchamp (he was clothed). The author is entirely up front about her obsession with her subject. A love for Babitz’s writing turned into a deep dive to uncover the woman who pitched her first novel, Travel Broadens, in 1961 to Catch-22 author Joseph Heller with a letter that read, “Dear Joseph Heller, I am a stacked eighteen-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer.” As Anolik shares, the provocative message was classic Babitz: “playing the sexy, boobalicious girl.” That character certainly made a significant impression during her heyday, but it was Babitz’s style and fictive memoirs that defined her as something of a female Hunter S. Thompson, a drugged-out sex kitten with brains. Throughout the book, Anolik shares deep cuts from Babitz’s writing and influence over the major players of the era. But as with any dishy tale, there are times when the narrative gets caught in its own name-dropping cyclone and feels just as shallow as some of the stars it portrays. Fortunately, the author counters this problem with a poignant rendering of Babitz’s tragedy: a freak fire that destroyed her once-renowned beauty—but not her chutzpah.
Come for the LA intrigue; stay for the surprising moral of the story.