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‘Sure,’ said George. ‘We kinda look after each other.’ He indicated Lennie with his thumb. ‘He ain’t bright. Hell of a good worker, though. Hell of a nice fella, but he ain’t bright. I’ve knew him for a long time.’

Slim looked through George and beyond him. ‘Ain’t many guys travel around together.’ He mused. ‘I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.’

I had to study Steinbeck’s The Pearl when I was preparing for my Junior Cert exams. Sadly I suspect having to read a book in school often has the effect off killing of any interest the writing might invoke. Obviously not always, but in my mind the writing of Steinbeck is synonymous with the schoolroom. This is a real shame, as it has taken sixteen years for me to read another book of his.

George and Lennie are labourers travelling on the road during the Great Depression. It is a hard time for everyone and few can afford to work land on their own, becoming itinerant farm hands to make what little money they can. George complains often about how he has to care for Lennie, a giant of a man with the mind of a child. Not knowing his own strength, the gentle giant was involved in an incident at their last job that forced the two men to go on the run. George desperately tries to teach Lennie not to draw attention to himself, promising a bright future once they earn enough, living off land of their own, with rabbits that he can play with as a reward for his good behavior.

After they arrive at their new job, George quickly realizes that they are going to have to keep their heads down. The boss’ son Curley takes an immediate dislike to Lennie, looking to prove himself by getting into a fight with the much larger man. If that was not bad enough, Curley’s wife of two weeks has a habit of flirting with the labourers, which only makes the jumped up landowner’s son even angrier. When elderly farmhand Candy offers to go in with the two men on their plan to buy property of their own, it seems their dreams are just within reach. George just has to make sure Lennie does not draw any undue attention to himself.

Steinbeck writes simply and directly without sentiment, or overwrought moralizing. When Lennie begs George to talk about their wonderful plans for the future it is heart-breaking, as is his childlike joy at petting small, vulnerable animals. Unfortunately as he does not know his own strength, he can accidentally harm such creatures, an ominous hint of where Steinbeck intends to take his story.

The symbol of an elderly dog close to death lies at the heart of this story. In a time of such economic desperation men are reduced to the state of animals and the long suffering dog’s fate reminds his owner Candy that he can expect little more mercy.

This book is so sad it brought a tear to my eye, but I also could not help but admire Steinbeck’s gift for expressing such humble truth.

If LA isn’t the first true American city, she is certainly the greatest. I think so many journalists and tourists report condescendingly on her because they don’t being to understand the depth of the culture-shock they have experienced. A shock nothing like as immediate as the one you receive from New York, but one which is in my view far more lasting and harder to cope with.

I bought this book from a second hand store shortly after J.G. Ballard died. I had just read Michael Moorcock’s tender obituary and was thrilled to discover more about their friendship. The girl in the shop remarked that she had been surprised so many folk were buying up Ballard books before she heard the news. It was a curious friendship between the two men, both writers who appeal to quite different perspectives on the world.

Ballard’s writing evokes a fascination with a coldly objective world, where humanity itself is a passing phase and the remnants left behind, abandoned cities and nuclear fallout, have just as much a claim to life. There is a fascination with an ordered vision of a world stripped of human failings and mortality. Moorcock by contrast takes a perverse pleasure in the grit and grime of fantasy realms, where stories are all lies and wonder is to be found in the rotten core of human history.

What I find odd about the correspondence collected in this volume is that the style is indistinguishable from the crooked authorial voice of his fiction. Indeed I began to question just how real these sights and encounters with the strange denizens of Hollywood were, as the adventures of Moorcock the Englishman abroad seemed too similar to those of his character Colonel Pyat in Jerusalem Commands. If this is fiction disguised as travel writing, it is a fine joke.

We are not privy to Ballard’s replies in this correspondence and Moorcock makes reference to painful personal events during the course of his stay in the States. His marriage had just broken down and emotionally crippled, he travelled to L.A. to visit a writer friend from his New Worlds days, Graham Hall, who was himself dying.  Moorcock gives an unsentimental account of his friend’s selfishness and hurtful decision to drink himself to death. He is also deeply affected by what he sees as the waste of a potentially great writer’s talent. While Moorcock’s name is frequently associated with psychedelic drugs, he eschews puritan hypocrisy in his lamenting of a friend’s life destroyed by drink. He contrasts the aspirational character of Californians, living in a beautiful landscape of sun and surf, with the fatalistic affectations of English Bolshieness, would-be working class heroes with a college degree and ideology in a bottle.

Moorcock’s attempts to raise funds to rescue his soaring overdraft – courtesy of his estranged family relations back in England – land him a position as a script-writer on a revisionist King Arthur film. He identifies the director of the picture only as ‘Ike’, an old Hollywood player who has just had a great success with the space opera genre. I assumed this was a coded reference to Irvin Kershner and a quick google would appear to confirm this. At any rate ‘Ike’ is something of a cartoonish figure, a monstrous ego on legs who insists on Moorcock introducing a black character into the Arthurian cycle on one day and homages to Kurosawa on the next. The well-worn dictatorial relationship between the director and the screen-writer is ploughed through, with Moorcock emerging shaken and disturbed.

Once again I begin to wonder just how real ‘Ike’, is. He seems more a collection of Hollywood player clichés, which does not mean he does not exist. Just Moorcock’s flights of invective remind me more of a fictional dilemma than an actual account. An earlier encounter with a sf fan tattoo artist also raised suspicions. The character in question is identified by the name Gulliver and bonds with Moorcock over Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. The main character of which is memorably described as having a number of facial tattoos, and named Gulliver Foyle. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but it made me curious nonetheless.

For Hollywood itself is a place filled with unreality, where the ‘English countryside’, of a Robin Hood serial is just over the hill. Trust Moorcock to prove to be such a winning guide to the darker half of sunny L.A. Evocative and very intimately written.

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