Re: RARA-AVIS: Ellroy reviewd at Salon; Spillane still not dead

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 13 Jun 2001

Bill D, thanks for the review.

I'm with Bill C, the excerpts don't make me want to read the book, either.

However, that doesn't keep me from thinking the reviewer is amazingly wrongheaded and condescending. And Ellroy is probably in complete agreement with him. I love it when an artist pisses all over his loyal fans. And in Ellroy's case, many seem to become more loyal the more they're pissed on. Or do they believe the attitude is pointed at everyone else, me and Ellroy against the world? (I know, I'm confusing the art and the artist, but as I've stated before, Ellroy has done his best to join the two.)

"And he almost succeeded; "American Tabloid" jerked Ellroy out of the crime fiction shelves in the big bookstores and into fiction. And, even more incredibly, Ellroy did it without changing his subject, crime, and his subtext, evil. He did it, as he told me years ago he would, by making each succeeding book "bigger, denser, more complex, more multilayered, more multiplotted, richer, darker, more stylized, dare I say it, more profound." Dare it, dare it."

So a book about crime is not crime fiction simply because it's longer? Ellroy did not really change anything in American Tabloid. The style was already pretty much there in White Jazz (and it was certainly an attempt at a vernacular speech, something we've often called a defining point of hardboiled lit, no matter how constructed). All he did was exaggerate everything he was already doing (which is why I was disappointed by Tabloid, finding it more style than substance, just Ellroy doing Ellroy) -- even the reviewer admits he's the same Ellroy, just more so. So how is it no longer crime fiction? Just because bookstores changed what shelf he was on?

"Fans of crime thrillers would have complained that "American Tabloid" was nearly as impenetrable as "Ulysses" -- that is, if fans of crime thrillers had known what "Ulysses" is. I think Ellroy knows damn well what "Ulysses" is, and I think he has intended "The Cold Six Thousand" to be his -- dare I say it -- "Finnegans Wake.""

I find this incredibly insulting even though I never got very far in Ullysses (even when it was assigned reading) and never attempted Finnegans Wake. However, the bigger question is, WHAT FANS OF CRIME THRILLERS COMPLAINED? How can American Tabloid have brought him more readers (and I'm not aware of any it lost, everyone I knew who was already reading him read, and most enjoyed, that one, too), as he earlier stated, if it was so impenetrable? It's not like the bestseller lists are filled with dense literary novels or even reissues of Joyce.

"Ellroy has gotten a lot of ink as a result of carefully cultivating his image as an American primitive, a natural, uneducated talent (you know, little Latin, less Greek) who has succeeded despite having written more books than he has read."

While Ellroy does play up the primitive role, I've never been aware of his claiming to be unread, especially when it comes to crime fiction. As a matter of fact, that's part of his primitive myth (whether true or not), that he spent several years doing speed, jerking off and reading crime novels all day and prowling and breaking into houses at night.

And as for the reviewer's big revelation that Ellroy must have read DeLillo's Libra, Ellroy has loudly proclaimed his admiration for and debt to DeLillo's book. He gave credit at the Tabloid reading I attended, as well as in numerous interviews.

""Fuck being a crime novelist when you can be a flat-out great novelist," he once told me --"

They're mutually exclusive?

"He made a conscious decision, with "American Tabloid," to write a book that couldn't be categorized as a mystery or a thriller and thus risked losing his hard-won crime following."

Again, how is American Tabloid not a crime novel. Sure, it's not a mystery, but how is it not a thriller?


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