"Very few things seem the same to me. When I lived here I lived in a house we rented from Jack Haley, who was the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. It had a great peach tree in the back yard. I think it had three bedrooms. It’s since been torn down.
"Of course the most interesting in a way are the places that you know one way as a child growing up and then see again in a different context as an adult. I’m always finding these old shrines of sorts here.
"You know the way that little Brentwood Country Mart looks, or the Farmers Market up at La Brea? A lot of L.A. looked like that, low-down, ranch-style. They were sort of kitschy and nostalgic even when they were built.
"Also I know that Beverly Hills has these old pretty bronze signs." Her tone has turned gently sly. "But they now say ‘sister city to Nice, France.’ Or is it Cannes? I don’t remember that they ever said that before."
If Simpson has felt more intellectually and aesthetically at ease in New York, she has thrived in some ways as a writer precisely because she has maintained a vantage point outside that literary hothouse. Indeed, to pick up one of her books is to settle in for a long drive down boulevards of subtly varying apartment blocks, or highways rolling past endless re-configurations of golden grass, gray-green brush and chocolate new-plowed furrow. There are moments that the steady accumulation of perceptions may become wearying by their very constancy, but the view is always spacious, sometimes breathtaking. And because the books don’t end at the next corner but track characters well past any obvious climax (going away to college, finding a father, the birth of a wanted child), there is ample time to look back in the rear-view mirror or contemplate the approaching horizon.
Most important, Simpson’s fiction offers the reward that excellent writing always does: unequivocal confirmation that looking clearly and scrupulously recording one’s observations can make all the difference in the world.