Always Crashing in the Same Car
On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California
“Haunting, powerful, riveting, unforgettable. . . . I’ve never read anything quite like it.” —Tom Bissell, author of Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
Blending memoir and cultural criticism, Matthew Specktor explores family legacy, the lives of artists, and a city that embodies both dreams and disillusionment.
A few months shy of his fortieth birthday, Matthew Specktor moved into a crumbling Los Angeles apartment opposite the one in which F. Scott Fitzgerald spent the last moments of his life. Fitz had been Specktor’s first literary idol, someone whose own passage through Hollywood had, allegedly, broken him. Freshly divorced, professionally flailing, and reeling from his mother’s cancer diagnosis, Specktor was feeling unmoored. But rather than giving in or “cracking up,” he embarked on an obsessive journey to make sense of the mythologies of “success” and “failure” that haunt the artist’s life and the American imagination.
Part memoir, part cultural history, part portrait of place, Always Crashing in the Same Car explores Hollywood through a certain kind of collapse. It’s a vibrant and intimate inspection of failure told through the lives of iconic, if under-sung, artists—Carole Eastman, Eleanor Perry, Warren Zevon, Tuesday Weld, and Hal Ashby, among others—and the author’s own family history. Through this constellation of Hollywood figures, he unearths a fascinating alternate history of the city that raised him and explores the ways in which curtailed ambition, insufficiency, and loss shape all our lives.
At once deeply personal and broadly erudite, it is a story of an art form (the movies), a city (Los Angeles), and one person’s attempt to create meaning out of both. Above all, Specktor creates a moving search for optimism alongside the inevitability of failure and reveals the still-resonant power of art to help us navigate the beautiful ruins that await us all.
“A novelist and critic with a sharp eye for Hollywood blends memoir and cultural critique in this study of classic American failure narratives.”
—The New York Times Book Review, New & Notable
“Fascinating. . . . This enthralling work deserves a central spot on the ever-growing shelf of books about Tinseltown.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Eloquent. . . . An incisive collection of artist portraits illuminates the tenuous quality of Hollywood celebrity and the price it exacts.”
“Specktor delivers interesting pieces of criticism, reporting, and self-help in this unique memoir.”
“Playful and thought-provoking.”
“Specktor has captured the LA I know, the one all around me and the one in my head, a city of invention and grit, surface and underbelly.”
—Charles Yu, author of Interior Chinatown
“Haunting, powerful, riveting, unforgettable―I could go on (and on) about Matthew Specktor’s astounding new book about failure, writing, Los Angeles, and the movies. With scholarly rigor and tenderhearted sympathy, Specktor excavates the lives of artists forgotten (Carol Eastman, Eleanor Perry), underappreciated (Thomas McGuane, Hal Ashby), and notorious (Warren Zevon, Michael Cimino), while always circling back to his own benighted Hollywood upbringing. This is an angry, sad, but always somehow joyful book about not hitting it big, and I’ve never read anything quite like it.”
—Tom Bissell, author of author of Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
“On the shelf with Play It as It Lays and The Big Sleep and my other favorite books about LA. . . . I couldn’t stop reading.”
—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
“A haunting memoir-in-criticism exploring a very certain kind of failure—the Hollywood story. Specktor intricately knits his own losses and nostalgias into a larger cultural narrative of writers and filmmakers whose failures left behind a ghostly glamour. I can’t get it out of my mind.”
—Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and The Chimes of a Lost Cathedral
“In Hollywood, according to Brecht’s famous formulation, there was no need of heaven and hell; the presence of heaven alone served the unsuccessful as hell. But Los Angeles has always been full of commuters on the congested freeway between both camps. They are the subject of Matthew Specktor’s continuously absorbing and revealing book, itself nestling in the fruitful terrain between memoir and criticism.”
—Geoff Dyer, author of Out of Sheer Rage