Sex and Rage (1971; 2017)
Words by Caitlin Colapietro
Sex and Rage (1971; 2017)
Sex and Rage is a novel that appeals to the type of reader who idealizes the lives lived by elites on the US coasts, a fantasy that many women have imagined through the ages. This sort of nostalgia for events that didn’t even happen to you, combined with the luster of yesteryear is where the draw for this book comes into play, a time without the pressures of social media and the hustle of modern life is all too enticing.
I did not find myself particularly interested in Jacaranda, our spontaneous main character in question. I didn’t feel for her and her tendency to fall for any man on a whim irked me. Not that you have to like every main character, but there was a vagueness to her that left me wanting more. She dabbles in drugs, surfs, fraternizes with big names, eventually writes for a living, and has the freedom to inhabit spaces in both LA and New York. At the same time, she isn’t all that remarkable. Her personality is not much more than a mess of a person who is drawn to the ocean. Perhaps that was due to her rampant alcoholism, but even after she cleans up in New York, I wasn’t keen on imagining what came for her next. Her alcoholism could have been explored more and made for a more fulfilling differentiation between LA Jacaranda and New York Jacaranda.
After finishing the novel, I realized that maybe this was intentional: What if this void was intended to be filled by the young reader who daydreams? A reader who would give anything to live in a time where they could pick up and go on holiday, work a nontraditional job, and rebel without facing real consequences. Jacaranda is unique enough to play into the fantasies of the reader without making her too far off. She’s a safe outlet for readers to use as an imaginative vessel for their own debauchery. Or perhaps this is just a side effect of Babitz’s writing style of semi-fictionalized memoirs. Maybe Babitz is just less concerned with making a character who is pleasant to read and more interested in telling her own story.
Jacaranda is concerned with things that I associate with current LA: thinness and the anxiety of weight changes, fashion, and a constant fear of the perception of others. These are all topics that she ruminates on regarding herself and those that she interacts with in LA and New York. She’s concerned with how Wally will perceive her, constantly makes remarks about her weight changes, and the topic of aging is peppered in as well. Since the book was originally published in 1979, it is intriguing yet sad to see that these are all things we grapple with today. And maybe in that sort of vicious cycle lies another layer of relatability for the reader.
Sex and Rage is a quick and easy read for those who are searching for a flair for the dramatic and a dash of spontaneity. That being said, where was the sex and where was the rage that I was promised on the cover? There was far more unrequited love and helplessness than the saucy title led me to believe. The only rage that I picked up on was my own.