On the page, Babitz is pure pleasure—a perpetual-motion machine of no-stakes elation and champagne fizz ... Sex and Rage isn’t as sharp as the books Babitz made her name on—she’s really a memoirist—but it’s nonetheless a mesmerizing account of a young woman trying to decide what to do about her own premonitions. The barely audible beat of an unlucky future may have been part of what made Babitz immortalize herself with passages like this one, in which Jacaranda imagines how Max sees her: 'a rare enough thing—a native-born Angeleno grown up at the edge of America with her feet in the ocean and her head in the breaking waves.'”
Sex and Rage is less controlled, and in my view, a more interesting work from Babitz. Jacaranda shares some of her biographical markers but not all of them, giving her room to experiment. And though the book is plotless, told in vignettes, and this will bedevil some readers, there is something about its portrait of an It Girl on the verge of a nervous breakdown that softens and opens the type ... All that allure, that veneer of endless cool, it can be a little intimidating. But Babitz is up to something more interesting by the time she plants Jacaranda in the legendary New York artist’s watering hole called Elaine’s. Jacaranda looks around that room with ambivalence. 'In Elaine’s it was almost impossible to pull off being incredibly beautiful and splashy and fabulous,” she remarks. It fits, because most of Sex and Rage seems to be about the difficulty of pulling off that It Girl illusion too.
Sex and Rage has everything 1979 readers had come to expect from Babitz — art parties in the canyons or near the beach; rocks stars mingling with peasants; cocaine and Quaaludes, brandy and acid trips — richly described if redundant of her earlier work. Some moments in the novel are so self-aggrandizing that they make the reader squirm, such as when Jacaranda is invited to party at the elegant and unobtainable Max Winterbourne’s penthouse ... Sex and Rage reveals a more self-conscious Eve Babitz. As Jacaranda spirals on an alcohol bender, Babitz writes, 'The more someone liked her writing, the fewer clothes she felt she had on' ... Babitz’s iconic status is why Jacaranda is such a fascinating character. She signals Babitz’s fear of time passing, of being an almost former it-girl.
[Babitz] does not romanticize the lifestyle that leads to Jacaranda’s condition, nor the social norms that allow it to disappear in plain sight. Jacaranda’s constant drunkenness allows her to pretend that she’s not afraid of anything, that she’s never been hurt or disappointed; it’s the same hazy denial of complication or pain that people imagine as the default state of all Angelenos. But in fact, Babitz makes clear that this mindset is a wasting disease—something you have to descend into and then recover from ... Babitz makes just as much space on the page for recovery as she does for addiction. She allows it to be messy and unnerving, vital and unstable ... Women like Babitz, and cities like Los Angeles, make it look easy to be charming. They invite you to imagine that there’s no trick to it, just effortlessness. They seduce you with an image that glitters, and tempt you into believing that someone’s life is easy, even if it isn’t yours.