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" America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets.....You can’t lose what you lacked at conception."
June 17, 2012 3:24 PM   Subscribe

When divorced mother Jean Hilliker was discovered murdered under lurid circumstances in 1958, it came as no surprise that her young son James grew up a bit disturbed. Sent to live with his alcoholic accountant father, a man with "a 12 (to 16) inch schvantz " who had purportedly once "poured the pork to Rita Hayworth", James Ellroy became obsessed with his mother's murder. Some of this obsession was transferred to police procedure, detective novels and especially the spectacularly grisly murder case of Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia.

Ellroy spent most of his late teens and early adulthood abusing drugs, alcohol, and on breaking and entering sprees for the purpose of sniffing panties. Eventually, he was able to turn many of his fascinations into a somewhat decent career as a writer of detective fiction. Always a fan of the more hidden, brutal, and transgressive aspects of crime and law enforcement, his books however never made a serious impression until one of his novels, at 800-900 pages was rejected due to its excessive length. Instead of cutting out any of the actual story or subplots, he decided to jettison all extraneous vocabulary, giving his work a harsh, stuccato, yet almost rythmic flow. This unique style was inaugurated with his now famous LA Quartet novels, which made him, in his own words "....a master of fiction. I am also the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. I am to the crime novel in specific what Tolstoy is to the Russian novel and what Beethoven is to music."

While some would argue with that description, his work from that point on, set in the much more brutal than one would think 1940s to 1960s LA, dealing mostly with dirty cops,corrupt pols and wayward hitmen as the protagonists (before Quentin Tarentino made it fashionable) have made him one of the top crime novelists of our time. Movie adaptations of his work run the gamut from the awesome LA Confidential to the turgid Black Dahlia, but his LA Quartet novels, which includes both the Black Dahlia and LA Confidential as well as The Big Nowhere and White Jazz were quite successful commercially if not critically. He has also written extensively on his mother, true crime and his follow up to the LA Quartet, the Underworld USA Trilogy does for national politics what his LA Quartet did for any remaining hagiography of the Camelot era with no less than J. Edgar Hoover as the Big Bad. He now plans a prequel series to the LA Quartet set during WWII.
posted by jake1 (86 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love Ellroy, and I've read everything he's published. I thought he took the ultra-hardboiled prose a bit too far with The Cold Six Thousand, but American Tabloid, to me, is up there with the grears.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:29 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Greats.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:29 PM on June 17, 2012


I've long believed that James Ellroy killed his mother.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:34 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not a huge fan of Ellroy's writing - the style is fine, but the plots are overcomplicated even for noir. But LA Confidential is my favorite movie, so he gets a permanent pass for that alone.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:35 PM on June 17, 2012


.....that was not intended as a response to Carol Anne.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:36 PM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Once you start reading Ellroy, you realize how thoroughly you are surrounded by him. Especially when you live in Hollywood. I live a block south of Elizabeth Short's last place in Hollywood. I live two blocks north of Crossroads of the World, where Hush Magazine was in the film version of L.A. Confidential. If somebody made a map of the places he writes about, you could do one of those creepy diagrams where you draw lines and find where they intersect, and there I would be. And there would a lot of us Angelenos.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:39 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


But LA Confidential is my favorite movie,

The movie is a much superior artwork to the book, imho.
posted by Bwithh at 3:40 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Poured the pork"? That sounds like a euphemism that only someone who'd never actually engaged in sex would come up with.

Googling the phrase gets cooking hits massively outweighing the sex hits...
posted by yoink at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The movie is a much superior artwork to the book, imho.

Absolutely. Honestly, it would have been far superior just on the strength of the streamlined script, even before you consider the acting.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:47 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


set in the much more brutal than one would think 1940s to 1960s LA

I think I heard somewhere in the marketing for the LA Noir video game (yeah, yeah, I know) about how LA in this period was particularly violent because of certain sociological trends - the masses of men returning from WWII who had been trained to kill, many of them psychologically scarred by violence (and many of them retaining weapons from the war); the big gender imbalance - many more single young women than men; and LA being a boomtoom where people moved to reinvent themselves and escape their old lives and problems - with the dark side being the rootlessness of the city and those who came to LA out of desperation still being desperate.
posted by Bwithh at 3:48 PM on June 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


"Poured the pork"? That sounds like a euphemism that only someone who'd never actually engaged in sex would come up with.

I think the term 'poured the pork' is the best phrase in the whole of Ellroy's work. Lots of sexual euphemisms have more to do with misogyny than the ability to evoke the mechanics of the act. They're none the worse for that, IMO.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:51 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd kind of like some elaboration on the alleged Falconean schvanz, and on Carol Anne's rather blunt statement that she believes the (still living) Ellroy killed his own mother.

Is there any attribution or supporting evidence for either of these notions?
posted by hincandenza at 3:54 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've long believed that James Ellroy killed his mother.

I assume you're joking. Otherwise you have to come up with a plausible explanation that accounts for how a 10-year-old -- who went to bed that night 20 miles away -- might manage to travel back to El Monte in the middle of the night, strangle an adult woman sometime between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m., move and dump her body, and then make the 20-mile trip back to his father's house in time for breakfast.
posted by scody at 3:58 PM on June 17, 2012 [24 favorites]


Jetpacks.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:59 PM on June 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


I believe you just described a typical Ellroy novel, scody. :)
posted by Ardiril at 4:01 PM on June 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


For some horrible reason, in my head scody's comment was benny hillified.
posted by elizardbits at 4:08 PM on June 17, 2012 [35 favorites]


I think the term 'poured the pork' is the best phrase in the whole of Ellroy's work.

Now THAT is damning with faint praise.
posted by yoink at 4:12 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've wanted to love his novels but the narrative style just doesn't work for me, try as I might. Fans of his work: which would you recommend as an entry-level Ellroy reader who's wanting to give him one more shot?
posted by MoonOrb at 4:12 PM on June 17, 2012


White Jazz, being shorter, very well-written and from a single characters point of view. Also, its in the first person so it's a different style.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:15 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Who would have thought that Brian De Palma would end up doing such a crap job with his demographically fouled screen adaptation of Black Dahlia (2006)? I was actuallly hoping for an L.A. Confidential redux there.

Then again, this is the same De Palma that gave us Femme Fatale (2002), Blow Out (1981) and the first Tom Cruise Mission Impossible (1996), so one could say that BDP is already well into his 2nd decade of retirement.

Early and mid-career De Palma, like Sisters (1972), Dressed to Kill (1980) and The Untouchables (1987) numbers his best work IMHO. I don''t know why he began to suck.
posted by vhsiv at 4:26 PM on June 17, 2012


Pouring the pork sounds, um... flaccid.
posted by absentian at 4:34 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I loved the "American Tabloid" trilogy, but found "The Black Dahlia" and "L.A. Confidential" a little too much.

I'm with the person above who said the movie was superior to the book. I couldn't even finish, the plotting had just gotten too baroque. The Curtis Hanson film is, in my opinion, one of the best American movies of the last 30 years or so. Maybe the best.
posted by hwestiii at 4:37 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]



I've wanted to love his novels but the narrative style just doesn't work for me


I think his work is as much about narrative style as it is about plot. Either you like it or you probably won't like his work. His earlier books are less stylized but also less interesting.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:42 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've met Ellroy a few times and he was never anything less than personable and totally willing to talk to you about just about anything (I mentioned Richard price to him and he said, "Price still has his hair, but I'm taller." His writing has been a huge influence on both my writing and my (and I think society's) veiw of an era.
posted by jonmc at 4:45 PM on June 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Adorably, Ellroy like(d)s to describe himself (or have himself described) as "the demon dog of American letters," even to the point of signing himself "Dog " in correspondence. I've always wanted to meet the man partly just for the opportunity to say "Yo! What up Dog?"

(I like Ellroy's early noir-ish stuff. The Cold Six-Thousand books left me, uh, cold.)
posted by octobersurprise at 4:48 PM on June 17, 2012


I think his work is as much about narrative style as it is about plot. Either you like it or you probably won't like his work.

I was sort of thinking that this might be the case, unfortunately (for me).
posted by MoonOrb at 4:49 PM on June 17, 2012


This is a vague memory, so this may not be reliable, but I think I remember reading in his first autobiography that he used to have hookers dress up like his dead mother. He's a very interesting guy.
posted by Roman Graves at 4:59 PM on June 17, 2012


a harsh, stuccato, yet almost rythmic flow
Bet he was plastered when he came up with that!
posted by Abiezer at 5:01 PM on June 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


When James Ellroy writes about the lowest depths that men and women can sink to in the First World. you can bet he's seen it first hand. The first Ellroy book I read was My Dark Places, and that's definitely my first recommendation. It's non-fiction that reads like his best fiction, and the tales of his life and his mother's life are harrowing.

There's no way a film could do justice to the novel LA Confidential—it spans something like eight years and the equivalent of a post-grad in criminal justice for one of its characters—but the movie told a good story that happened to have some characters with familiar names from the book.

As an aside, I worked for ten years in one of the buildings Ellroy mentioned in Brown's Requiem. Bunny's right about how you can walk anywhere in Hollywood and West Hollywood and feel Ellroy's LA still there all around you.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:03 PM on June 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Then again, this is the same De Palma that gave us Femme Fatale (2002), Blow Out (1981) and the first Tom Cruise Mission Impossible (1996), so one could say that BDP is already well into his 2nd decade of retirement.

Wait. Are you saying those are bad movies? Because you're a wrongy-wrongy-pants if you are.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:07 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'll add myself to the defense there, Femme Fatale is a nearly perfect little box of all De Palma's obsessions, and a fantastic move by itself.
posted by Iosephus at 5:31 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Movie, movie... Hunting for the coffee cup while typing makes for lousy typing and coffee stains on the table.
posted by Iosephus at 5:33 PM on June 17, 2012


^ Are you saying those are bad movies?

Femme Fatale? Black Dahlia? A Mission:Impossible that kills everybody on the team BUT Tom Cruise within the first half-hour?

Rapiers or pistols?
posted by vhsiv at 5:36 PM on June 17, 2012


IMHO DePalma blew his wad with Scarface. But everything before that was gold, baby. Gold.
posted by jake1 at 5:38 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have to sit together through an Uwe Boll marathon. Whoever leaves first loses. If you both make it through, we queue up Michael Bay.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:39 PM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's no way a film could do justice to the novel LA Confidential...the movie told a good story that happened to have some characters with familiar names from the book.


My thoughts exactly. I liked the movie but spent a lot of time saying "but what about...". The Black Dahlia is a bit over the top but the "LA Quartet" as a whole is the fucking bomb yo (as was Ben Affleck in Phantoms, Snoogins)! The "Underworld USA Trilogy" not quite as bomb diggityish. It starts out strong with American Tabloid but suffers from a decline in quality in each subsequent volume. Still love Dog though, how can you not enjoy books where even the "good guys" are total scumbags?
posted by MikeMc at 5:40 PM on June 17, 2012


So can someone recommend the books of his that you would absolutely recommend reading, and in their order according to his considered best?
posted by scunning at 5:40 PM on June 17, 2012


You have to sit together through an Uwe Boll marathon. Whoever leaves first loses. If you both make it through, we queue up Michael Bay.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:39 AM on June 18

The Aristocrats!
posted by kandinski at 5:45 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


So can someone recommend the books of his that you would absolutely recommend reading, and in their order according to his considered best?

The "L.A. Quartet" and "My Dark Places" (as mentioned above). I actually read the L.A. novels in reverse order (that's just how I was able to get them from the library) but they should be read in order. "My Dark Places" really goes a long way towards explaining how his personal life informed his novels.
posted by MikeMc at 5:46 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the De Palma Black Dahlia was a shocking disappointment -- like, Golden Turkey award level. Really, really awful. It was especially awkward when I saw it, as it was a special screening at LACMA with the cinematographer in attendance to take questions afterwards, and the movie was so bad that the audience was groaning, laughing, and nearly booing at points. Then the lights went up and the (visibly mortified) film programmer who was facilitating the discussion was like, "So! Vilmos Zsigmond! Let's talk about Close Encounters of the Third Kind!"

As for Ellroy's novels, the two that I tend to recommend as the best intersection of classic Ellroyesque plotting and style while still maintaining readability are The Big Nowhere (the second book of the L.A. Quartet) and American Tabloid (the first book of the Underworld USA trilogy). The two that are the most difficult, style-wise, within those groups are White Jazz (book 4, L.A. Quartet) and The Cold Six Thousand (book 2, Underworld USA, and nearly unreadable even for an Ellroy fan like me).
posted by scody at 5:49 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks! Just impulsively bought the LA Quartet. Looking forward to finally reading him.
posted by scunning at 5:52 PM on June 17, 2012


Anyone looking for an entry point into Ellroy's work could do a lot worse than Hollywood Nocturnes. It's a great story collection that gives you a taste of the author's work without having to make a huge commitment.
posted by dortmunder at 5:53 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


My thoughts exactly. I liked the movie but spent a lot of time saying "but what about...".

I saw the film first (before I'd read any Ellroy, actually) and read the novel a few years later after a couple more viewings, so it was interesting to have the reverse experience; I was throughout the book having these "a ha" moments where something that the film had touched on as a brief nod turned out to be a complicated bit of character development across a couple separate characters over a period of years.

As a study in the challenges and opportunities that adapting a complicated novel to the screen present, L.A. Confidential is really a pretty great couple of works.

I need to get back to the American Tabloid books. JFK was busy getting shot off-page last I checked, which worked pretty well as a cliffhanger for something that I'd learned about in grade school.
posted by cortex at 5:53 PM on June 17, 2012


The Cold Six Thousand (book 2, Underworld USA, and nearly unreadable even for an Ellroy fan like me).

"Blood's A Rover" is no walk in the park either, I'd say "The Cold Six Thousand" is better.
posted by MikeMc at 5:56 PM on June 17, 2012


I really liked Black Dahlia (if one can really like such a story) and enjoyed My Dark Places. I'm going to have to take a look at the rest of the L.A. Quartet.
posted by jgaiser at 5:59 PM on June 17, 2012


Never read any, but proclaiming himself the greatest crime novelist ever has piqued my curiosity. How does he compare to Jim Thomson?
posted by Ad hominem at 6:00 PM on June 17, 2012



"Blood's A Rover" is no walk in the park either, I'd say "The Cold Six Thousand" is
better.


Blood's A Rover
is a great novel. The Cold Six Thousand is kind of a mess, and made me wonder if Ellroy had pushed his shtick too far. With Rover he pulled it back though. When you read it all the way through, what's really striking is how his prose changes during the course of the novel. As his characters get closer to, what in Ellroy's world, qualifies as redemption, he drops the pretense and his prose gets a lot less purple.
posted by dortmunder at 6:01 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


JFK was busy getting shot off-page last I checked

Jesus, haven't you ever heard of a spoiler alert?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:03 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blood's A Rover is amazing. The culimination of all of Ellroy's work so far and one of his most personal novels. I completely agree with what dortmunder said above. I enjoyed The Cold Six Thousand because I've enjoyed all of Ellory's books, but at times it does read almost like a parody of his style.

I also agree with jonmc-- I've met Ellroy once and he was incredibly nice. Really intense but incredibly nice.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:14 PM on June 17, 2012


"The Cold Six Thousand is kind of a mess, and made me wonder if Ellroy had pushed his shtick too far."

IMHO the problem with the whole Underworld USA trilogy is that he keeps too many plates spinning. You almost get lost in who's going where to do what with who. The plots overlap and interweave and die off, if you can stay focused it's engrossing but Ellroy's style can sometimes make it difficult to hold onto the thread. To quote the Seattle Times review for BAR:
"I sometimes felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails to keep everyone and everything straight in the big cast of characters and sprawling story that spans Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Florida, Haiti and the Dominican Republic."
posted by MikeMc at 6:21 PM on June 17, 2012


I've met Ellroy once and he was incredibly nice. Really intense but incredibly nice.

How can you not love a guy who begins a book reading "Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps."? Best. Reading. Ever.
posted by MikeMc at 6:25 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


How does he compare to Jim Thomson?

Both great writers - Thompson is the more naturally gifted writer, though you'd be hard pressed to acknowledge it judging by some of his hastily slapped-together works.

They're both dark as hell, but to reference Rumsfeld of all people, Ellroy mines "known unknowns", whereas Thompson really seems to have been intent on fleshing out the "unknown unknowns."

When Ellroy attempts that, we get "Black Dahlia". When Thompson does, we get "Killer Inside Me". I am a huge fan of Ellroy, but BD cannot touch KIM.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 6:40 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Based on this thread I'm going to revisit "Blood's A Rover". It's staring accusingly at me from across the room as if to say: "Why did you compare me unfavorably to the first two volumes of the trilogy". Then again it could just be a hallucination caused by my swallowing the cotton from several Vick's inhalers (a trick I learned from Ellroy's "My Dark Places").
posted by MikeMc at 6:54 PM on June 17, 2012


I wonder sometimes when I read Ellroy how much of the tone of his stories were set by his years on the street taking amphetamines and perseverating about the death of his mother. Regardless of what informs his style, I'm glad to have read him. He makes a nice bracket of a time period in LA that's also covered from another angle by Walter Mosley.

I was actually just talking about him today and trying to remember a choice he made in one of his novels to shift the viewpoint from the protagonist rather abruptly and unexpectedly. It was so surreal when reading it that I sometimes think I somehow dreamt the dogleg in the plot.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:55 PM on June 17, 2012


Thanks. Just downloaded an ePub of L.A. Confidential and ordered the book to make up for it. Always liked the movie.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:56 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another MeFite and I once met Ellroy and the man said one of the most helpful things I've ever heard: "Chandler wrote about the man he wanted to be. Hammett wrote about the man he was afraid he was. That's why Hammett will always be the better writer."

Who would have thought that Brian De Palma would end up doing such a crap job with his demographically fouled screen adaptation of Black Dahlia (2006)?

Everyone I know. It woulda been a dream if Fincher would have stayed on.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:05 PM on June 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


i hear ellroy's father once dribbled the dong to rita hayworth
posted by facetious at 7:57 PM on June 17, 2012


No one has mentioned The Hilliker Curse yet. I just got a copy free, and am wondering if it's worth my time. FWIW, I loved The L.A. Quartet and My Dark Places.
posted by old_growler at 8:09 PM on June 17, 2012


I quite liked the Lloyd Hopkins trilogy and Silent Terror (aka Killer on the Road), but remembered being disappointed in Black Dahlia for some reason, and the last thing of his that I read--or tried to read--was a nonfiction piece about the Robert Blake trial that, for whatever reason, he decided to write in this overblown tabloid style; I'd have thrown it across the room if it hadn't been in a magazine in a drug store. I've met him, too, signing books next to Walter Mosley at the Fifth Avenue Book Fair in the early nineties; Mosley seemed somewhat morose, but Ellroy was indeed quite personable.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:29 PM on June 17, 2012


Ellroy's fiction has never done it for me (a style thing, it's not you, it's me, blah blah). But it's fascinating to read about his early life and think about the why and how of his eventual path into "...and that's how I became a crime writer," when other people have found plenty of incentive for "...and that's how I became a coke-dealing serial killer" in the same background. Um, not that this is a bad thing, crime writers.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:43 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ellroy was indeed quite personable

A friend of mine used to own a bookstore in West L.A. in the '80s and early '90s, and Ellroy was a regular customer. She said he was the loveliest guy, and frequently special-ordered various hair-raising titles that he always picked up promptly and cheerfully when they arrived.
posted by scody at 8:55 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just got a copy free, and am wondering if it's worth my time.

It wasn't worth mine, but yours isn't rumoured to be worth as much.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:33 PM on June 17, 2012


Can't think of any other author who had their own TV show featuring an animated talking dog. Especially one who started a pretty munch a small time crook before writing. Thomson was also a petty crook before starting a wringing career, supplying heroine and marijuana to patrons of the hotel he worked at.

I think it is likely both men got involved with drugs and crime to satisfy a physiological need to face destruction. This is something James Toback has explored, he gambled not to win but to feel the terror of losing and facing his bookies.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:43 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw him give a reading once. Entertaining guy. He had a whole schtick going about how much he loved selling his books. I brought my copy of "White Jazz" and he signed it "white dogs rule!" (I had a white dog at the time, and there was some sort of JFK conspiracy involving a white dog, IIRC). I agree that "Cold Six Thousand" was way too far out to deal with as a whole. I was frankly glad to be done with it.
posted by Gilbert at 9:44 PM on June 17, 2012


Mean, Other Guy.
posted by old_growler at 9:52 PM on June 17, 2012


It must suck to sit down every day and write knowing that Ross Macdonald already kicked your dick in the dirt.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:03 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jesus, haven't you ever heard of a spoiler alert?

Spoiler alert: JFK was assassinated.

American tabloid takes place from Nov 22, 1958 to Nov 22 1963 and includes as secondary characters JFK, RFK, Joseph Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, Jimmy Hoffa and Jack Ruby. Mentioning that Kennedy was shot when talking about a book about the Kennedy assassination hardly seems like a big spoiler.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:13 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're a mensch for defending the spoiling of history, but I think strangely stunted trees was probably joking.
posted by cortex at 10:16 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The first Ellroy I read---and so far still my favorite---was American Tabloid. I read it as a kind of dark, violent alternate universe novel and had a great icky time. I think Thompson has an emotional vulnerability and emotional range that lifts him into a whole other level than Ellroy. But snappy dialogue, shocking twists, and a pantheon of mean-ass villains are no small achievement.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:27 PM on June 17, 2012


The first time I read James Ellroy I was on a beach in Thailand and looking for something to read. Someone had left a copy of the Black Dahlia lying around the hotel and I picked it up to read the jacket. Its owner, a rather pleasant South African woman, upon seeing me read the jacket told me "That is disgusting shite and as far as I'm concerned, you can have it!"
I can't thank her enough.
posted by jake1 at 10:43 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


At least it got me off my J.G. Ballard kick.
posted by jake1 at 10:44 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I told Ellroy that he had something in common with (then living) Susan Sontag his response was "What, are we both bald?!" Noooo, they both wrote about how they stole books from my grandfather's bookstore.

Woe to anyone who asks at a reading what his typical day is like. ;-P
posted by brujita at 11:09 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought he took the ultra-hardboiled prose a bit too far with The Cold Six Thousand, but American Tabloid, to me, is up there with the grears.

Couldn't agree more. American Tabloid was precisely the kind of kick in the teeth I enjoy and did not need a sequel. It's history of America (Bay of Pigs to SPOILER ALERT!!! JFK assassination) is virulent, absurd, hilarious and probably accurate.

I love that (SPOILER ALERT!!! serious this time) the key trigger man who killed JFK is a mob guy who dared to actually start to believe the Camelot myth. Then, once betrayed, well it's like "hell hath no fury" line.

I never even finished Cold Six Thousand.
posted by philip-random at 11:13 PM on June 17, 2012


If the staccato style of the later work turns you off, there's a lovely batch of more traditional pre-Black Dahlia crime novels that are all worth your time, and won't demand much of it: Brown's Requiem (1981), Clandestine (1982), Blood on the Moon (1984), Because the Night (1984) and Suicide Hill (1985). Then there's Killer on the Road (1986), which is one of the most chilling first person serial killer narratives imaginable.

Ellroy is definitely a mensch. Not long after my husband and I launched our true crime tour company in L.A., I ran into him outside Musso & Frank and he spontaneously offered to host a bus tour of his personal city--then when that sold out immediately, he added a second tour. His generosity put us on the map, and he could not have been more gracious. He made a point of learning every passenger's name, and making each one feel special. In another life, he could have been a terrific hotel manager.

We learned a lot working with him, most importantly that a caffeinated audience is a contented audience. Since he insisted we provide strong coffee for him to drink mid-tour, we brought enough for everyone, and have never looked back.
posted by Scram at 11:27 PM on June 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


I wish Ellroy had bothered to run Mesplede's French past a francophone. When you have the Big Bad repeatedly making utterly implausible grammatical errors, his credibility suffers.
posted by Wolof at 11:54 PM on June 17, 2012


I loved _Cold Six Thousand_ and _American Tabloid_ for their boisterousness. Every few pages he would come out with something really audacious or ridiculous or just plain wild-assed. That's no mean feat and whatever his other shortcomings, his evident hard work at making his novels interesting is to be commended.

Also, _My Dark Places_ is about much much more sane and mature and rational than it has any right to be.

Also also, one of the baddest motherfuckers in the Underground USA trilogy is French-Canadian. Because of course.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:13 AM on June 18, 2012


Blood's A Rover is amazing

Little trivia nugget: the title's from AE Houseman's Reveille: "Clay lies still, but blood's a rover", but that anyone can find on wikipedia. What you may not have known is that was one of the working titles for Thomas Pynchon's first novel, which ended up being called V.

I have—I'll never tell how—photocopies of some twenty editorial letters between Cork and Pynchon about the novel that would eventually come to be called V. But not before some simply awful alternative titles were at least briefly considered: The Yo-Yo World of Benny Profane, The Quest of Herbert Stencil, World on a String (all Cork's ideas), and Blood's a Rover, Down Paradise Street, And His Ass Falls Off, Footsteps of the Gone, Dream Tonight of Peacock Tails, The Republican Party Is a Machine (Pynchon's). How they settled on the perfectly obvious title of V., the letters do not say.

posted by chavenet at 1:32 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've enjoyed his fiction, but his autobiography "My Dark Places" is by far his most compelling work.
posted by Hickeystudio at 3:44 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another fan of early Ellroy. (although I like American Tabloid etc. too) "Killer On The Road" was a very scary book.
posted by thelonius at 4:26 AM on June 18, 2012


Little trivia nugget: the title's from AE Houseman's Reveille: "Clay lies still, but blood's a rover", but that anyone can find on wikipedia.

Or on the first page of the book.

It's also the title of Harlan Ellison's sequel to A Boy and His Dog.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:27 AM on June 18, 2012


For those who like Ellroy but think he's too damned tame, I recommend David Peace. Start with 1974. (Skip 1977). 1980 was also good.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:38 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ended up grabbing a copy of Cold Six Thousand last night, first time I've actually bought a book on my iPad. We'll see how that goes.
posted by cortex at 8:13 AM on June 18, 2012


I have mixed feelings about Ellroy — the "jazzed-up hop heads" and "pervos" stuff can get goofy and take me out of the moment, and his treatment of women is cartoonishly anachronistic, but I liked LA Confidential more as a book, especially because I was reading L.A. Noir at the time, about Parker and Cohen's back and forths.
posted by klangklangston at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2012


"Chandler wrote about the man he wanted to be. Hammett wrote about the man he was afraid he was. That's why Hammett will always be the better writer."

Ellroy's been polishing that chesnut for years. It's appeal to a man who titled his memoir My Dark Places is obvious, but stated so, I'm unaware of any evidence that it's actually true, or if it is, that a confession of sins is necessarily more the mark of a better writer than a resolution to avoid them.

It must suck to sit down every day and write knowing that Ross Macdonald already kicked your dick in the dirt.

"Ross the Boss. He only wrote one novel, but it was a hell of book," is my favorite Ellroy line. (One which, like his remark on Hammett and Chandler, may or may not have anything to do with the actual work of the actual author in question.)

Readers who really dig Ellroy's scene should check out the Factory novels of Derek Raymond, particularly I Was Dora Suarez, which Chris Petit, in his contemporary review, called "a book full of coagulating disgust and compassion for the world's contamination, disease and mutilation, all dwelt on with a feverish, metaphysical intensity that recalls Donne and the Jacobeans more than any of Raymond's contemporaries."
posted by octobersurprise at 11:27 AM on June 18, 2012


I can't think of a genre I like so much that I really want to like a person who writes it than James Ellroy. I mean I like the time period so much I didn't really have the problems with L.A. Noire the video game.

And because we're talking L.A. again, and because I've been thinking about it a lot lately because of Metafilter*, if you're interested in L.A. and movies and good documentaries (and you get a chance somehow because it probably won't ever get released because of rights issues but you may be able to find it elsewhere) you should see Los Angeles Plays Itself. Because though it may be a skewed history of the city and how its portrayed (I'm not informed enough to know) it's a pretty damn good one (it's certainly shaped my view). I was lucky enough to see it when it came out, and though it's about as "meta" as one can get, it has stuck with me as if it was a tearjerker that ripped my heart out.


* It seemed inappropriate in the Rodney King obit thread and framing it as an answer in the "How has L.A. changed question?" would have been the worst kind of "answer-but-not-really."

posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:28 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, of course, there's a previous Metafilter discussion about it, so this is both an unnecessary derail and a double. (I should really start reviewing those favorites sometime.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:30 AM on June 18, 2012


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