Home and History in the Fiction of Los Angeles


Sarah-Jane Stratford in the LA Review of Books:

LOS ANGELES does not, perhaps, get enough credit for feeding the imaginations of science fiction writers. Our original cinematic visions of imagined futures — often dystopian wastelands — were shaped by their film locations on what was then undeveloped land outside Los Angeles. Even the futuristic worlds on soundstages called back to Los Angeles, a city whose rapid growth was multi-pronged and haphazard. But despite the sprawl and isolating car culture that fueled dystopian fancies, the city has certainly not been a dystopia. When we talk about the pace and occasionally impractical results of LA’s development, often conducted without long-term considerations, we tend to overlook the beauty, inventiveness, and quirky charm of so much of LA’s architecture. It’s no wonder Los Angeles has long been a home to writers who found comfort, space, and privacy to let their minds wander through the thicket of human experience.

Some of LA’s most inventive residents, like Ray Bradbury, attempted to use the conduit of literature to prevent LA from actually becoming the dystopian world it had helped people envision. But while LA’s isolation and tension, and excessive concrete, may themselves not have been a problem, they are being met with a new difficulty: mansionization. And as this trend gains apace, the city is in danger of inadvertently creating exactly the sort of desolate society it has excelled in rendering as entertainment.

Plenty of people knew that for over 50 years, Bradbury lived in the peaceful enclave of Cheviot Hills, nestled in West LA, but it was only when photos of his home were published prior to its sale this past June that admirers were able to revel in the writing sanctuary he’d carved for himself in the basement of the comparatively modest 1937 home. The story and photos were seen and discussed in newspapers around the world, and for a moment, people felt connected to the mechanics of story-making. Literature touches us, offers guidance as we wend our way through life’s daily labyrinth, and when a door is opened onto the business of its creation, we can’t help but feel awed and grateful, both for the work and the privilege of understanding its physical origin, even if we can’t — and shouldn’t — access the emotional nucleus. Bradbury’s house offered a glimpse not only of his own writing process, but also of the magical space that LA can make available to writers.

More here.