Emily St. John Mandel
If it’s partly the pure physical splendor of California that draws the state paradoxically toward noir, or that draws noir toward the state, it’s perhaps also the haze of very hot weather—that dazed feeling sometimes, on the very hottest days, that all of us are caught up in the same slightly apocalyptic hallucination—and partly, I think, the extremity of the dreams being dreamt in Los Angeles.
I live in New York City, and aside from being polar opposites in almost every respect—sprawl versus congestion, bungalows versus towers, cars versus trains, the weather—New York and Los Angeles hold a certain extremity in common. These are the cities where people come in hopes of becoming not just successful, but wealthy; not just respected, but famous. A fair percentage of the waitresses in both cities have headshots. A friend returning to New York City after a long absence was excited, at first, to be back in Manhattan; but shortly before the end of his stay, he confided that he was happy to be leaving. “I remember why I left,” he told me. “This place eats me alive.”
The potential for spectacular success comes hand-in-hand with the possibility of grinding failure. These are cities fraught with an almost unbearable intensity. The Boulevard of Broken Dreams is Sunset Boulevard’s nickname, but it could just as easily be applied to Broadway.
“The streets were dark with something more than night,” Raymond Chandler wrote of his genre. It was 1950. He was closing in on death—nine more years remained to him—and it seems to me that he could have been writing of either city.