Saturday, December 26, 2009
The title of Mark Arax's collection of reportage "West of the West" comes from Theodore Roosevelt, who famously said: "When I am in California, I am not in the West, I am west of the West." Roosevelt's remark helped create our idea of a state that is not only golden and opportunity-filled but somehow beyond everywhere else, within which experience and social experiment happen in ways that are both unto themselves and constantly surprising.
Arax explores the contemporary manifestations of this idea, showing us intimate dramas that arise from the tussles among the larger external forces of landscape, family, immigration, politics and economics. In "Legend of Zankou," an Armenian rotisserie chicken magnate dons a white silk suit he hasn't worn for 20 years, then drives across Glendale to kill his mother, his sister and then himself. In "The Agent," Arax profiles James Wedick Jr., an FBI agent turned private eye, fighting for the chance to testify on behalf of two Pakistani Muslims who stand accused in the first terrorism trial in California. The authorities think (hope) they've busted an Al Qaeda cell in Lodi, population 60,000, a farming town at the far northern edge of the San Joaquin Valley. In reality, Wedick tells Arax, they've found the neighborhood ice-cream man and his sad cherry-packer son guilty of little more than stupidity and railroaded by a dubious interrogation process.
Review from the LA Times