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

Date: 13 Jun 2001 wrote:

> "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?

I read that as a commentary on the practice, in bookstores and libraries, of more or less arbitrarily restricting books and authors to genre ghettos. Ellroy is kept in the Mystery section for years until someone decides that he's respectable enough to go into the Fiction section. Ellroy hasn't changed, though.

> "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.

I'll repeat myself. The average fan of crime thrillers has never heard of Ulysses and James Joyce. To expect the average fan of crime thrillers to be more literate than the average reader is both unrealistic and unfair.

> "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.

He has repeatedly stated, in interviews and essays, that he only reads crime fiction, and nothing else.

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

> They're mutually exclusive?

In terms of the Academy's treatment of authors and novels, sure.

> "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?

Again, he's not talking about what the novel is, but how it is regarded--"categorized."


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