LA and NY on Each Other via James Frey

James Frey, author of the fake-memoir A Million Little Pieces, has a new novel set in and about the City of Los Angeles. It’s fascinating to contrast the New York Times review with the Los Angeles Times review of the book. The NYT reviewer loved it; the LAT reviewer hated it, calling it one of the worst books he’s ever read.

The NYT reviewer says it’s a “captivating urban kaleidoscope” about Los Angeles. The LAT reviewer says “Frey seems to know little about Los Angeles and to have no interest in it as a real place where people wrestle with actual life. There are obligatory riffs on freeways and natural disasters…[it is] a superficial collection of loose impressions that don’t add up.”

I’m guessing the New York reviewer felt the description of LA resonated with her probably because it confirmed the idea she already had about LA. The LA reviewer hated it because the reality of LA isn’t anything like the idea that drives Frey’s novel.

I’m fascinated about how the west and east coasts portray each other.

New York dominated media outlets (TV news, newspaper, magazines) continue to reinforce superficial stereotypes about California (24/7 sun but boob jobs and the culture that goes with that) and the Los Angeles dominated movie industry often sets films in New York and reinforces that city’s stereotypes (cosmopolitan and exciting but soul-sucking and money-obsessed).

I’ve lived in LA County for about nine months now. I recently talked to a friend who lives in New York. On the topic of Los Angeles, he said, “Oh, I hate LA.” Why, I replied. “Pollution and traffic.” How many times have you been to LA? “Just a few times…”

Pollution and traffic are surely problems in greater LA, but having now lived in LA county for nine months, I can say that writing off the city for these tired, old reasons is like writing off New York by saying, “JFK and the subways are all disgusting.” Or that New Yorkers are rude mo-fos who walk too fast. Or any other easy but ultimately superficial complaint.

It’s better not to judge until you’ve spent some time in a place. Unfortunately, we have plenty of New York media outlets and Hollywood movies working to perpetuate “a little truth, lot of bullshit” stereotypes about each other…contributing to a collective mis-understanding of America’s two largest cities.

(hat tip to Dana Goodyear for links to the reviews)

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