The novelist hasn't always been kind to Los Angeles. Whether it's the existential noir of Raymond Chandler, the psychological and cultural dread of Joan Didion or the hallucinatory dystopias of Steve Erickson, there's something inevitably damaged about the portrayal of the city of lapsed angels -- that "bright, guilty place," as Orson Welles once put it.
Welles' spot-on description certainly rings true to the Los Angeles that lurks at the heart of Rachel Resnick's "Go West Young F*cked-Up Chick," a promising yet frustratingly uneven first novel that chronicles one woman's trip down the neon rabbit hole of L.A. "Hard to believe this is the town that spins out all our dreams," quips Rebecca Roth, the novel's picaresque young heroine, who heads west after the suicide of her mother and immediately goes about staking her claim in la-la land, mucking her way through the detritus of Southern California, wanting (of course) to make films and take the town by storm. "I was exultant," she states not long after her arrival. "Even breathed the thick poison. Liked the way it filled the throat."
But before she can become the artist she longs to be, Rebecca must first endure a series of low-level jobs in the entertainment industry (transcribing celebrity interviews for "Entertainment Tonight," working production on B movies) and navigate the vertiginous waters of love and loss (there's Isaac, there's Giorgio, there's Slim), as well as confront the consuming memory of her mother. The chapter titles provide a general sense of how Rebecca's helter-skelter and somewhat predictable script plays out: "My First Abortion," "On Not Becoming an Actress," "Things She Learned in Therapy." Throughout, Resnick counters Rebecca's technicolor odyssey with fragmented glimpses of L.A. life -- ` la Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" -- ranging from cow-killing Satanists and a suicidal socialite to a man who claims to be the son of Gene Autry.
Other than the occasional over-the-top rhapsodizing about Los Angeles, Resnick handles the material with an impressive deftness, and her vibrant prose glimmers with the intensity of that omnipresent SoCal sun. Nevertheless, her talents as a writer can't overcome the book's fatal shortcoming: its structure. Told in brief vignettes (most in first person but some in third), the novel unfolds in a nonlinear, collage-like fashion, jumping back and forth among several periods in Rebecca's life. Perhaps the intent was to replicate the cinematic jump cut or mirror the manic energy of L.A., or both. The result, however, is a disjointed debut that reads more like a series of semi-related episodes than like an organic, fully realized novel.
Without an underlying narrative anchor, "Go West Young F*cked-Up Chick" ends abruptly and unsatisfactorily. What we get is Rebecca's belated attempt at summation, at epilogue: "And yet ... I am still here in the town that throbs with celluloid and videotape. Something keeps me ... For all the city's smog, its choppers, sirens, gunshots, snarled traffic and ego-tripping monsters, there is comfort here. Apocalyptic authenticity." But after 250 pages, the reader expects more from Rebecca, regardless of how long she's lived in L.A. and no matter how f*cked up she might be.