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A Los Angeles Primer: Larchmont Village

“When I came to, it was in a cloud of disbelief mixed with the stale taste of morning breath,” says Juniper Song, narrator and protagonist of “Follow Her Home”, Steph Cha’s 21st-century update on the Los Angeles noir novel. “I groaned and lay still with my eyes shut tight. As far as I could tell, I had been sapped.” An underemployed twentysomething dropped into the role of a modern-day Philip Marlowe, Song ends the second chapter already chloroformed by a menacing, sharp-suited thug. Yet when she awakes, she does so in the morning light, dumped in a decidedly un-noirish setting: “The geometric head of a Koo Koo Roo chicken winked down at me from behind. Someone had seen fit to cart me unconscious to Larchmont, on the Beverly end.” This branch of the chicken chain, in what I think of as the center of Larchmont Village, has since become a branch of the burrito chain Chipotle. Which, I wonder, would Raymond Chandler have given more of a stink eye?

Not that it matters now. The hybrid age in which we live permits nothing so straightforward as a Chandler noir, least of all in Los Angeles. Cha’s book merges the sensibility of the subgenre through which Marlowe slunk with the modern perspective of the Korean-American identity novel, and I could think of few settings more suitable, even for such a minor scene, than Larchmont Village, in part because so much of its shape appears to date from Chandler’s day. Had Song looked just beyond the Koo Koo Roo, she’d have seen the Larchmont Medical Building, the neighborhood’s not-particularly-tall tallest structure and exactly what an Angeleno of sixty years ago must have envisioned when they thought of a trip to the hospital. On much of the rest of Larchmont Boulevard, you see one- and two-story houses, the likes of which Marlowe would have cruised past on a hunch, squinting with suspicion, in the middle of the night. But look closer and you find that they, too, offer medical services, especially of the oral variety, containing offices of dentists, orthodontists, and even something called a prosthodontist.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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