slaveofnyI’m in the middle of a few new books from the library (and from Christmas), but I wanted to keep posting. So I figured I’d write about books that I’ve already read but keep going back to.

My friend Elizabeth (sadly, not really my friend anymore) mentioned this book to me the fall of 2003, when I’d moved back out to LA and jumped back into grad school. She, her boyfriend Craig and I would stay up for hours discussing books that we loved, authors we considered our pet finds…people we wanted to be and books we wanted to write. She suggested I read Slaves Of New York, but I already had.

I’d found it in a used-bookstore in Kentucky–the movie tie-in paperback with Bernadette Peters awesomely ’80s-makeup’ed out and wearing an ashtray hat and either Chris Sarandon or Nick Corri on the cover. (I’ve only seen Fright Night once, and, of course, any star of A Nightmare On Elm Street has more prominence with me.) By the way, I can never believe Bernadette as a normal person in movies–she has such a theaterical quality to her. When she’s emoting in the movie, I expect her to break out into song, or something along those lines to make Broadway critics cheer. Even though she physically fit the role, I didn’t really like her in it.

I can pick this book up any time, any place, and be interested in it. The artsy, ’80s New York mentioned is a place where I always wanted to visit, if not live. I adore Desperately Seeking Susan and Smithereens for the same reasons (and more)–the New Wave Alice in Wonderland quality New York has.

If you’ve never read it, Slaves is (loosely) mainly two narratives: jewelry designer Eleanor T.’s misadventures in life and love, and Marley Mantello, a crazy/beautiful artist. There’s some other, random stories (probably my favorite of those is “You and the Boss,” a Jay McInerney-ish second person short story about Bruce Springsteen that mentions the Hollywood Wax Museum) as well, but whenever I pick the book up, I always flip to the Eleanor chapters. Sometimes I remember a certain scene–Eleanor crying into her fondue, Eleanor and her bad boyfriend Stash at a zombie-themed horror movie release party–and I feel hungry to read it again.

There are some strange things about the book that I’d love to ask Tama–whose other work I was never able to get into–and some really strange, beautiful details that I find myself reading aloud to myself, enraptured in the way that writers fall in love with words: “Melinda was tiny and blond with the luminous dark eyes of a loris or some nocturnal animal.”

I love how wry the sense of humor is:

Daria’s mother, Georgette, comes up alongside. “This is the one I made,” she says, pointing to the coconut cake.

“Then I must try it,” I say. I eat a forkful. What a disappointment! The cake is illusory, I mean, it looks like a gooey, fluffy coconut cake, but some basic ingredient such as sugar or coconut has been left out. “Delicious,” I say.

I loved the book so much that I ordered the movie, used on VHS (it was out of print), from Amazon. It was disappointing (although Tama did make a cameo at the end) and needlessly complicated. I’ve only watched it once, and it took some effort not to fast-forward it.

But the book I return to, over and over again. There’s something about the bizarre details, the understated quirkiness…this is a world I want to live in. These are people I want to know. A specific place and time have been captured, and for those of us too late to ever experience it, I’m grateful.

My absolute favorite chapter is “Matches,” where Eleanor throws a party. Reading it always makes me feel hopeful and happy and thoroughly charmed (and wanting to step out on a fire escape in a pair of gold sandals and green satin Chinese pajamas).

And it has the perfect epigraph (a passion of mine), encapsulating the experience of living in New York in the ’80s (or, I’d say, Los Angeles in the ’00s).

But it wasn’t a dream, it was a place. And you–and you–and you–and you were there. But you couldn’t have been, could you? This was a real, truly live place. And I remember that some if it wasn’t very nice–but most of it was beautiful.

Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, MGM Pictures

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