Longing For City Leads Him To Its Suburbs
When Alan Rifkin landed in Long Beach from Los Angeles a decade ago, he was surprised, he said, by the similarities between the suburbs of South L.A. and the San Fernando Valley.
"They both have struck me as sort of satellites of the big city," Rifkin said. "It's flat and very community-oriented."
Rifkin, who grew up in Encino's flatlands, has written about the nebula of towns surrounding Los Angeles in his new book of stories, "Signal Hill."
"I think it's a regional book," Rifkin said. "But I don't like seeing it on the regional shelf (at the bookstore)."
The characters in Rifkin's stories skitter across Southern California, the whirl of place names making one feel at times like one has dropped in on a literary Thomas Guide. But his stories are not so much portraits of Southern California as they are bittersweet narratives of suburban life in general.
His troubles with suburbia are often tinged with longing for the "real" city - in this case, Los Angeles. In the title story, wherein a skirt-chasing divorced man named Richard Leviton searches for love and hope, Rifkin writes: "Signal Hill was the only elevation at all on the Long Beach side of San Pedro, and around certain curves it could look just like the Hollywood Hills, but only just enough like the Hollywood Hills to break Leviton's heart."
Nevertheless, Rifkin insisted that his views of greater Los Angeles, and Long Beach in particular, are not all dismal.
"I have a love/hate relationship with Long Beach," he said. "What I hate is the materialism, the anti-intellectualism and - relative to L.A. - the low importance given to creative pursuits, the quest for meaning.
"What I love. is the flipside of the same coin, which is that people here have their feet on the ground - family values, the lack of poseurs and prima donnas. (And) the fact that I've found traditional religion here. in L.A., you can't talk about! spiritual things if you've actually read the Bible."
He said h e thinks Long Beach, which straddles Los Angeles and Orange County, exhibits characteristics of both places. On one hand, he said, Long Beach's history of conservatism rivals that of its southern neighbors. But some sections of Long Beach hint otherwise.
"Belmont Shore, in particular, really hangs in the balance," he said. "Belmont Shore is more (of a) bohemian inception, more the stepchild of L.A."
Rifkin admitted that his life as a husband and father has led him to a gradual suburban acculturation. With a house "under the flight path" just outside California Heights (he doesn't have a Stop Airport Expansion sign on his front lawn yet, he said) and children who attend school in town, Rifkin has fashioned himself into a full-blown local - he even attends graduate school for writing at California State University, Long Beach.
"I wrote most of this book at Polly's," Rifkin said.