Here’s the striking thing about James M. Cain’s essay “Paradise,” originally published in the American Mercury in March 1933: Even then, before many of the prevailing tropes about Los Angeles had yet to assert themselves, we were already looking at the place through a mythic filter, one Cain sets out to undermine. You can see it in that fantastic opening sequence, with its intention to wash out all the preconceptions that have emerged from “Sunkist ads, newsreels, movie magazines, railroad folders, and so on.” You can see it in the deftly rendered metaphor by which Cain reframes Southern California as a kind of watercolor, because it “blurs here and there, and lacks a very clear outline.” He’s right, of course, as he is about the legendary “land of sunshine, fruit, and flowers” — all of which, he admits, are part of the territory, just “not with the lush, verdant fragrance that you have probably imagined.” For Cain, then, the idea is to cut through all the nonsense and offer up a vision of (as that long-ago issue of the Mercury promised on its cover) “What Southern California Is Really Like.”

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.