... a major book about Los Angeles — unless you’re an Angeleno. At its best, the book shares McWilliams’s bountiful gift for anecdote, the dumbfounded glee of a happy transplant like Banham and Davis’s compassion for those traditionally airbrushed out of the picture ... What’s missing is a shaping idea, some fresh thesis with which to think about the city. In its place, Lunenfeld overworks a flimsy metaphor, tenuously mapping the alchemical elements of earth, air, fire, water and aether onto his 11 chapters. Mercifully, he’s a sucker for a good story, even when its relation to the stories before and after isn’t always apparent ... In other words, this is a classic Los Angeles residential street of a book. Instead of Spanish Revival next door to Polynesian fantasy, we get snide alt-weekly riffing alongside academic theory, punctuated by lots of delightfully shunpike Southern California lore. Some passages read as if written years apart for different conferences. There’s nothing wrong with an essay collection, of course — unless it’s posing as a cohesive tour de force of cultural history ... Disconcerting lapses pop up along the way ... nit-picking is for chimps. Bad prose is something else ... Deep into the book, though, the damnedest thing happens. Lunenfeld gets out of his own way for a spell, and the prose starts to bloom. Chapter 5, for instance, his bracingly original account of the generational leap from ’50s dads in the military to their rock-star kids — among them Jim Morrison and Gram Parsons — will more than reward a masked expedition to the bookstore. But City at the Edge of Forever remains, stubbornly, 11 chapters in search of a book.
Lunenfeld draws surprising links between the artistic, economic, and political milieus of Los Angeles in this immersive cultural history ... Richly detailed and evocatively written, this highly original account unearths L.A. stories 'more complex [and] contradictory... than anything that ever made it to the screen.' Readers will be spellbound.