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Authors: Amor Towles

Tags: #Historical

Eve in Hollywood

PENGUIN BOOKS

EVE IN HOLLYWOOD

AMOR TOWLES
was born and raised just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. For more than twenty years he was an investment professional until he retired in 2013 in order to write full time. His 2011 novel,
Rules of Civility
, was a
New York Times
bestseller and has been translated into fifteen languages. He lives with his wife and two children in Manhattan and serves on the boards of the Library of America, the Yale Art Gallery, and the Wallace Foundation.

Visit www.amortowles.com

About the Book

Near the end of Amor Towles's bestselling novel
Rules of Civility
, the fiercely independent Evelyn Ross boards a train from New York to Chicago to visit her parents, but never disembarks. Six months later, she appears in a photograph in a gossip magazine exiting the Tropicana Club on Sunset Boulevard on the arm of Olivia de Havilland.

In this chain of six richly detailed and atmospheric stories, each told from a different perspective, Towles unfolds the events that take Eve to the heart of old Hollywood. Beginning in the dining car of the Golden State Limited in September 1938, we follow Eve to the elegant rooms of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the fabled tables of Antonio's, the amusement parks on the Santa Monica piers, the afro-Cuban dance clubs off Central Avenue, and ultimately the set of
Gone with the Wind
.

With the glamour and grit of the studio system's golden age as a backdrop, Towles introduces in each story a memorable new character whose fate may well be altered by their encounter with Eve. But in following the thread of these varied encounters, we also watch as Eve forges a new and unexpected life for herself in late 1930s Los Angeles.

EVE IN HOLLYWOOD

Amor Towles

A PENGUIN SPECIAL

PENGUIN BOOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

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First published in Penguin Books 2013

Copyright © Amor Towles, 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this product may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

ISBN 978-1-101-63092-1

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

For My Father

He pushed his way through a tangle of briars, old flats and iron junk, skirting the skeleton of a Zeppelin, a bamboo stockade, an adobe fort, the wooden horse of Troy, a flight of baroque palace stairs that started in a bed of weeds and ended against the branches of an oak, part of the Fourteenth Street elevated station, a Dutch windmill, the bones of a dinosaur, the upper half of the Merrimac, a corner of a Mayan temple, until he finally reached the road. . . .

—
Nathanael West
, The Day of the Locust

Charlie

I
N THE DINING CAR
, he was seated again at a table for four with the pretty young lady with the scar. She was reading that new detective story—the one with the strangled brunette on the cover. A page-turner, they called it, though you wouldn't know it from the pace that she was turning them. In all likelihood, she had just picked it up in the station to fend off friendly conversation. But he could understand that. Sometimes you just wanted to be left to yourself, even when it was for three thousand miles.

He nodded as he took the seat across from her. He put his napkin in his lap and looked out the window where the valley of the Rio Grande was giving way to the high, lonely deserts west of Exodus and east of John.

•

I
N ANOTHER DAY
, he'd be back in Los Angeles.

For the first half of the trip, he had put off thinking about what awaited him there. He had read the papers and sized up the passengers. In Kansas City, while they hitched a pair of Pullman cars from Memphis, Tennessee, he'd had a beer in the depot with a Wells Fargo man and almost missed the train.

But once they'd crossed into New Mexico, there was no more putting it off. He had to start giving it the attention it was due. In the days ahead, there'd be the selling of the house, the paying off of utilities, the closing of the account at the savings and loan. Every time he let his mind dwell on the list it grew longer. Selling his car. Packing his bags. Cleaning out that little storage space over the hallway that he hadn't visited since they'd stopped putting ornaments on the Christmas tree back in 1934. And then there was the list within the list: tending at long last to Betty's things. Her summer dresses, her aprons. Her hairbrush and brooches. Her Sunday service hats. The cookie cutters and rolling pins and pie plates that she had valued over everything else. To whom do you give a rolling pin, when every grown woman has a rolling pin of her own?

A good son, Tom had offered to travel out from Tenafly to help. And he had almost accepted his son's offer. That's how daunting it all seemed. But this was something he had to see to himself. Retired, widowed, moving back east to live with his boy, it was probably one of the last things he
would
see to himself.

•

O
N THE OTHER SIDE
of the window, the wide, cracked terrain of the Navajo reached to the horizon, ruthless and red. On his way east, he had been impressed by the buttes. Fixed against the sky, they seemed the ultimate survivors—outlasters of time and intent—as solitary and majestic as anything known to man. He had looked forward to passing back through this country, so that he could study them again. But as the train rushed on, he realized that they had become a blur. Without being conscious of it, he had let them recede from his field of vision so that he could consider the young lady's reflection in the window instead.

He first had seen her on the platform in New York—smoking a cigarette, with a small red valise at her feet. Fine-figured with sandy hair, elegant and self-possessed, she was hard to miss even in a crowd. Perhaps, especially in a crowd. He had taken a step to his right to get a better look, but the doors to the train had opened and she had disappeared among the getting off and the getting on.

What with finding his own compartment and securing his bag and making polite conversation with the shoe-leather salesman from Des Moines, he forgot altogether about the young lady with the red valise. Until the following morning when, as the train was nearing Chicago, he was seated at her table for breakfast.

She was gazing out the window and tapping the table with a brand-new pack of cigarettes. She didn't even look back to see who was joining her. But when the waiter offered to refill her cup, she turned just long enough to politely decline. And that's when he saw how her beauty had been marred.

He was surprised that he had missed it before. Because it had to be more than two inches long—running from the top of her cheekbone to the top of her chin. He had seen hundreds of them, of course. Star-shaped scars from a bludgeon to the brow; crescent-shaped scars from a knife on Encino; wide, white scars from fat-fingered stitch-ups in makeshift surgeries in the backs of garages. But those scars had all been on men, and they had been earned. Hunted. Almost longed for. With an inward shake of the head he turned to the menu and tried not to study the girl too closely, knowing that he would get a good look at her once she got up from the table.

But when the conductor passed down the aisle announcing the approach of Union Station, something interesting happened: Turning her gaze from the window, she called the conductor back and asked how much it would cost to extend her trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. Then, having paid the supplemental fare, she signaled the waiter for that refill, after all—as if she had just bought a ticket to the end of the line so that she could savor one more cup of coffee.

He had wondered a lot about that. It was one of those things he had wondered about in his berth at night while avoiding thoughts of what awaited him. Why would a young lady with a single valise who had boarded a train alone in New York suddenly extend her ticket from Chicago to L.A.? It's not as if she had received an urgent communication. Nor had she seemed particularly anxious when the conductor had called the next stop. But one thing was for certain: the decision had pleased her. Once her cup had been refilled, she leaned back with a sparkle in her eye that would have been the envy of any blonde in Brentwood.

O
N THIS MORNING
, as he was cutting into his ham and eggs across from the young lady with the scar, two women in their thirties took the empty seats at the table. Both were wearing those pillbox hats with the little black veils that are too small to veil anything. Their clothes were nicely made, but they were made for women in their fifties. The one in the blue hat sat on the other side of the table with a Presbyterian posture, and the one in the red hat sat at his side with her purse clasped tightly in her lap. They were from somewhere east of the Mississippi, he suspected, though not too far east. Maybe Cleveland.

—Good morning, they said.

—Good morning, he replied.

The young lady with the scar read on.

—Good morning, the woman in the blue hat repeated with a polite insistence that placed her a little closer to St. Louis.

—
Guten tag,
the young lady said without looking up from her book.

The woman in the blue hat raised her eyebrows for the benefit of her companion.

•

A
FTER THE WAITER HAD
taken their order, the woman in the blue hat produced a small diary and began reviewing their itinerary: when they'd be arriving, where they'd be staying, a restaurant near the hotel that, according to a reliable friend, was clean and reasonably priced. There were also some recommendations as to where one shouldn't go and what one shouldn't do. He could tell it was a conversation that they had had before. They were going to have it every day until they were home again.

When the food came, the woman in the blue hat again raised her eyebrows for the benefit of her companion, this time to signify the rather rough delivery of the plates by the waiter.

As they ate, the woman in the blue hat was reminded of something she had recently heard and the conversation turned to the business of neighbors. The woman with the red hat listened with an air of having heard it all before and yet not wanting to miss a word.
It just shows to go you
, she would say, whenever a turn of events ratified her worst suspicions. Like when the colored boy who cared for the Adelsons' cars finally took their Cadillac for a night on the town. Or when young Miss Hollister followed that fast-talking schoolteacher all the way to Chicago, only to return Miss Hollister and child. And Leonora Cunningham? After buying the Obermeyers' place in Clayton, and telling everyone who would listen about this curtain and that curtain and this lamp and that lamp, the bank examiners paid a visit to her husband's office and emerged with seven years of ledgers in a cardboard box!

Well. It just shows to go you.

He crossed his knife and fork on his plate and turned to the window, feeling a certain pang. It was the sort of pang that would strike him every now and then in the moments before some memory of Betty would surface. But no memory of his wife surfaced now. It was Caroline that he found himself thinking on.

When his son had first courted Caroline, he and Betty had been right proud. It wasn't because she was a college girl and the daughter of a New York attorney. Or, it wasn't only because of those things. It was because she had been so blue-eyed and bright. Sitting on their porch, she'd been ablush with talk of travel and music and books and all manner of open-endedness. But just six years later, she couldn't hide a hint of impatience. Like when Tom spoke of how much he enjoyed his position at his firm; or when he showed satisfaction in some little aspect of their house. And when she described a visit to an old friend in Greenwich, she twice told Tom that he wouldn't believe the trees in her backyard—as if the trees in Greenwich had been planted by a grander divinity than had the trees in Tenafly.

He had received his own serving of it too. On his first evening there, when he had told some old story from his days on the job, she had cut him short. It wasn't proper conversation for the dinner table, she had said. It wasn't proper conversation in front of the child. And the next day, when he had come downstairs for breakfast in his old gray suit, she cast him a glance suggesting that somehow his old gray suit wasn't proper either.

Caroline had itineraries and recommendations of her own, he thought to himself a little sadly. But it wasn't a trip to California that she was planning—it was her life.

•

A
ND YET, EVEN AS
this thought was taking shape, he chastised himself for having it. He chastised himself as Betty would have.

After all, hadn't Caroline every right to plan her life? To imagine it? Hadn't he and Betty done just the same in their time? Hadn't they spent sweet evenings in that little place on Finley Avenue picturing themselves in one of the houses on Amesbury Road? Hadn't they spent some of the best years of their lives imagining a future for their boy, even before he could imagine a future for himself?

It was the American way.

Maybe it was the way all over the world.

In the reflection of the window, he tried to size himself up. He tried to size himself up the way that Caroline had—when he had sat down to breakfast in his old gray suit. In truth, he must have lost twenty pounds since Betty died. The weight had come right off his chest and arms. So now his old grey friend hung loosely on his frame, as if he had bought it secondhand. And what was he still wearing it for anyway? Where was he all suited up to go?

Well he knew that in this country, in this life, we fashion ourselves. We pick our spot and our companions and how we'll earn our keep, and that's how we go about the fashioning. Through the where of it, and the who, and the how. But if that is how we fashion ourselves, then surely it follows that with the loss of each of these elements comes the winnowing away. The burying of one's spouse, the retirement from the job, the moving from one's home where one has lived for twenty-two years—this is the undoing, the unmaking. It is through this process that time and intent reclaim the solitary soul for its grander purpose.

A humbling reminder, outside the window a telegraph wire supported by lean gray poles ran through the desert bearing news of weddings and wars.

That first night back east—when Caroline had cut him off in the middle of one of his old stories—even as his prideful self felt slighted, he knew that she was perfectly right. She was perfectly right to cut him off. Not because his stories were improper for the table, or for the child. But because they were an old man's stories. They were sorry and tired and over-told.

The vanity of vanities.

For there is no remembrance of former things. And neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those that shall come after.

•

—I
S IT ANY GOOD
?

As the two women from St. Louis were paying the waiter, the young lady with the scar had looked up from her book to ask for her check, and the woman in the blue hat had made use of the opening.

—The book you're reading, she said. Is it any good?

From her tone, you could tell that she didn't expect it to be.

The young lady studied her for a moment. Then she put out her cigarette, smiled like a Southern belle, and replied with the accent to match.

—Oh, it's all right, I reckon . . . It's got all manner of nouns and verbs. And adjectives too! But it's just not true to life. Why, when the hero is slipped a Mickey Finn in chapter twenty-two, he topples over in sixty seconds flat. But in chapter fourteen, when he gets shot in the belly, he makes it halfway across town on foot. And as for ess ee ex: Suffice it to say, there's barely a mention.

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