The Slide Area by Gavin Lambert. Viking Press (1959), 223 pp.
This book presents a group of five interrelated short stories set in Los Angeles. All have the same first-person narrator, a screenwriter who has immigrated from England. They run from twenty-five to forty-six pages and are bookended by two shorter pieces. Each of the five focuses on characters whose lives are as impermanent as those houses on the sandy cliffs that overlook the ocean. In “Nukuhiva” Mark Cusden, the narrator’s handsome and ingratiating school buddy, can’t find a way to settle down. In “The End of the Line” the doddering Contessa Marguerite Osterberg-Steblechi thinks she’s living in Marrakech. In the first of three Hollywood stories, “The Closed Set,” Julie Forbes, an aging star with a recurrently changing image, has engaged Cliff Harriston, who once had artistic aspirations, to direct her latest film. In “Dreaming Emma” an optimistic new arrival from Galena, Illinois, Emma Slack, is ready to do anything to get into the movies. Finally, in “Sometimes I’m Blue” Clyde Williams, the spoiled and unstable teenage son of a wealthy theatrical agent, finds himself living with two people trying to control his life, a young man with a crush on him and the fiftyish wife of a real estate agent. The narrator participates in all the stories but doesn’t change their trajectories. The author treats his characters with sympathy and perceptiveness but does not gloss over their shortcomings. He manages to turn them into representative Los Angeles types without depriving them of their individuality. Lambert writes simply and calmly. His descriptions of setting capture the ambience of the city. Deserving of a wide audience, The Slide Area may be the best place to begin the reading of Los Angeles fiction.