Is it possible to write fiction about Los Angeles in the 1940s without falling into one of the common traps? I believe Beth Hahn has done it.
I have read many works of fiction set in Southern California of the 1930s to the 1950s, what I call the Raymond Chandler era of L.A., and most of them are problematic. Some are absurdly fabricated, like the later books of James Ellroy. Some are mildly anachronistic, like John Gregory Dunne’s “True Confessions.” Some careen into “Noirland,” never to be seen again. And some take a sort of “cosplay” approach to the past that works so hard to make sure the woolen suit is pressed and the seams on the nylons are straight that the writing becomes labored and burdened with extraneous and excessive detail.
Hahn has written “A Person of the World,” an unpublished novel somewhat inspired by the story of Elizabeth Short, although nobody should expect a fictional telling of the Black Dahlia. Her character is named May rather than Elizabeth or Betty/Beth. Still, Hahn has taken some of the better-known elements of the case and woven them into her book. The short story “A Girl Like You” is adapted from her novel and uses brief, fragmentary scenes to assemble a portrait of gritty life in postwar L.A.
Here’s the link. It’s definitely worth a read.
I’m wondering where the characters found an actual boardwalk around L.A. in the 1940s. I was familiar with all the beaches near Los Angeles by the mid-1950s, and the beachfront walks of all of them were concrete, and obviously had been for decades. I remember hearing people from the east coast talking about the boardwalks there, and was terribly envious because we had no such thing. It seemed like it would be so romantic, walking on a boardwalk along the beach, hearing the sound of footsteps resonate. Even the pier we most often visited, at Manhattan Beach, was concrete.