Hector Tobar on L.A. Literature

While two of Tobar’s picks (If He Hollers Let Him Go & The Crying of Lot 49) aren’t yet available for NOOK, maybe by the time you’ve worked your way through the others they will be!

Héctor Tobars Favorite L.A. Novels

The short novel book, written in 1939, is a truly wonderful portrait of the central Los Angeles of his day, and of a neighborhood which, but a few decades later, was largely wiped off the map: Bunker Hill. You can read Ask the Dust like a literary archaeologist, trying to see bits and pieces of a lost L.A. But the book is much more than that. It’s a tender portrait of the wounded souls gathering, during the Great Depression, in a city that was a new, sunny and yet incredibly lonely place. Fante’s L.A. is filled with “broken, uprooted people from the East.” They find little happiness here, and even the ground beneath them isn’t solid. “Los Angeles was doomed,” Fante writes, pages after describing an earthquake. “It was a city with a curse upon it.”

Himes later became famous for a series of Harlem novels. But this 1945 book is set in South-Central Los Angeles and the L.A. shipyards during World War II. It’s dripping with anger, raw and sexually charged. As in Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” (a superior book, to be honest) there’s a moment where the African-American protagonist gets himself in a situation with a white woman that looks perilously close to rape without ever being consummated: it’s a metaphor, of course, for the anger and apparent impotence of the non-white in the L.A. of the 1940s. They are people who can’t escape their second-class status despite living in a city and time where just about anyone, black or white, can make a lot of money.