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

Date: 13 Jun 2001 wrote:
> Jess wrote:

> "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."

> My quibble was not with his saying crime fans did not know Ulysses
> (although I think the average reader, crime fan or not, has at least
> heard of it, even if they have never attempted to read it, as an
> alleged "great book," and people of a certain age would remember it
> for its notoriety and its alleged obscenity), but with the

I'm afraid my experience with the readers (and if the people who come into public libraries to read aren't average, who is?) has taught me otherwise. I wish you were right, but I don't believe you are.

> assumption that crime fans had no interest in, cannot even handle
> complexity, whether Joyce's or Ellroy's.

Barra's statement was

"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 you are inferring something about Barra's attitude towards fans of crime thrillers that isn't there, sorry.

> I got the distinct feeling that he was claiming that Ellroy had not
> just left crime fiction behind, but narrow-minded crime fiction
> readers as well, that Ellroy was finally reaching the literary
> audience he deserved. True or not, and whether or not it applies
> to the reading audience as a whole, the Ulysses comment was clearly
> meant as a put-down of pedestrain readers who have little interest
> in anything but whodunnit.

I just reread the piece and didn't get that impression at all. Which statements of his set you off? I think Barra was speaking to how Barra is regarded by the Academy and by publishers and critics, not by how he is regarded by his fans.

And I don't believe that the average reader of Ellroy has much interest in anything but the Ellroy and writers like Ellroy. In my experience doing Reader's Advisory, something like 8 in 10 readers not only don't want to be challenged by what they read, but don't want to read anything different. They've found their ideal genre (Regency Romances, Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction, Raymond Carver) and they're sticking with it.

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

> Of course, he has a more inclusive definition of crime fiction than
> the reviewer's, including True Confessions and Libra.

In interviews, including one a friend of mine did for her dissertation, Ellroy has pooh-poohed reading things like Libra. I tend to think his statements are part of his shtick--but statements like those are why Barra (and me) was surprised at the DeLillo influences.

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

> However, he tacitly endorses that separation by spending most of the
> review separateing Tabloid and 6,000 from his earlier "crime"
> novels, how Ellroy has fulfilled his promise of more depth, more
> complexity, etc. He never says bookstores were wrong for changing
> the shelving. Nor does he say that Ellroy's earlier books should
> join them there.

But Barra himself says that Ellroy's topic--evil--hasn't changed, and that ""American Tabloid" jerked Ellroy out of the crime fiction shelves in the big bookstores and into fiction." Ellroy doesn't control how AMERICAN TABLOID is categorized. The "big bookstores"
(and libraries) do.

When Barra speaks of Ellroy fulfilling his promise of more depth, he (clearly, to me) means that Ellroy's style is evolving. I don't see in that statement that Barra believes Ellroy is no longer writing crime fiction, though.


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