Babitz, making her own mark as one of LA’s savviest observers with Slow Days, Fast Company (1977), hid ferocious ambition and a well-honed wit beneath the mask of the artless groupie she never quite was. Witty and self-parodying though Babitz is as a writer, Anolik does her no favours with comparisons to Proust (and, yes, Colette) or by denigrating every other writer on LA — from Didion to Nathanael West — in an effort to enshrine her heroine. At her best, Babitz’s bittersweet tales of LA in the 1960s and 1970s do stand comparison with the early Fitzgerald’s take on New York in the 1920s.
The book riffs on Anolik’s original piece, and too much of the rest is padding, some of it written in a style that embarrassingly apes Babitz’s. Anolik skims over Babitz’s post-9/11 turn to conservatism and seems oddly uncritical of the Seventies groupie culture that normalised relationships between older men and teenage girls. Babitz’s rape as an 18-year-old gets only a fleeting mention. Yet the sections on Babitz’s younger sister, Mirandi, are surprisingly compelling, with Mirandi – prettier and sweeter-natured than Eve but also prone to her addictive demons – providing a different, often darker, perspective on her older sister. But, ultimately, the only writer who could do justice to this brilliant, unruly life story is Babitz herself.