Hilary Kaplan of the website The Next American City sits down with D.J. Waldie, author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir and the new Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles, to chat about writing, the suburbs and his hometown of Lakewood, where Waldie is employed as the public information officer. Some excerpts:
In your new book, in the ďAbout the Author,Ē it says that you live a ďnot-quite-middle-classĒ life. What does that mean?
Lakewood residents have a collection of values that intersects with many middle-class values. But they have some values that donít intersect. Lakewood suggests to me certain social relationships that are more communitarian in nature than what I imagine contemporary middle-class values to be. There is in Lakewood a willingness to rub shoulders with other people in a way that I donít regard as being wholly middle-class. People in Lakewood are obliged to be more in each otherís lives because the houses are small on small lots, narrow streets. Itís not possible to create the kind of island of retreat or repose that I imagine in more middle middle-class places.
Do you feel like youíre a defender of the suburbs?
Oh yes. Naturally some people misunderstand Holy Land [his 1997 memoir] and think of it as a kind of ironic criticism, but in fact Holy Land is an argument. Itís an argument about disregarding places, and itís an argument about why a disregarded place, an ordinary place, an everyday place, why it can in fact harbor qualities of life that are profound.
Itís very unusual in American culture for people in city governments to also be literary authors.
Indeed. But more likely in South America and Africa as well. A long tradition of public servants being also serious writers. Well, Iím doing my bit for American culture!
Do you ever want to just be a writer?
Well, Iím sure thatís going to happen. Iím almost 56. Iím looking at how the next few years can be structured so that retirement will allow me to spend much more time writing. And so a different kind of life is ahead of me in the next few years.
Waldie's newest book is from Angel City Press in Santa Monica, so as of this week that makes us relations of a sort. Angel City has picked up my book on Wilshire Boulevard and will publish it this summer. They like the kind of Los Angeles-centric books that I tend to mention here, and I'm very pleased to be associated with them. In a second bit of news, Angel City has obtained the backlist of more than two dozen titles published by the now-defunct Los Angeles Times Books. So ACP is also now publisher of The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb.
At the beginning of the last century, the discovery of abalone in Southern California waters led inexorably to a flourishing fishing industry in harbor communities such as San Pedro. That a Japanese fisherman made the discovery would be of no surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Los Angeles history. And for a few years, the Japanese did well selling their catch to the Caucasian fish packers. But soon discrimination in San Pedro required the Japanese to segregate themselves in order to survive. They moved to Terminal Island, an artificial land mass in the Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor, opposite San Pedro....
These ghosts of Terminal Island compel detective Jack Liffey back to his childhood home of San Pedro despite trying to convalesce from a collapsed lung, a gift from his last case. In this the seventh outing for John Shannonís Liffey, life is almost as low as it can go. Forced to see a fatuous shrink just to keep his meager disability checks coming in (and prescription painkillers readily available), and with a doctor who refuses to inflate the damaged lung just yet, Liffey could sure use the comfort of the bottle but, alas, heís given that up along with his specialty of finding lost children. The only thing keeping Liffey afloat is his renewed relationship with Maeve, his teenage daughter, and his new, rich girlfriend, Rebecca. These two females give him hope even if the rest of his life is in the toilet.