Re: RARA-AVIS: Ellroy

From: Schooley (
Date: 22 Dec 2001

Hugh Lessig wrote:

> I would recommend "Dick Contino's Blues," which I first saw in a long-ago issue
> of Granta.

I too discovered Ellroy through DCB in Granta and found the writing so compelling that, I think, looking back, that it renewed my interest in hardboil. Here was a guy with something to say, and his own way of saying it. "White Jazz" was the first Ellroy novel I read, and I was not disappointed. "L.A. Confidential" was a good read, but the movie, though entertaining, was disappointingly tame, largely because Ellroy's style was not interpreted to the screen.

Style vs. Content? With so many talented writers about, I don't understand why anyone would see a need to choose one over the other. Why not demand, and have it all, with style delivering the sense and feel of the content? Ellroy delivers that. Much of the hardboil I read previously depicted a well ordered, largely middle-class view of the world in which criminals were mostly people incapable of abstract thought (I'm thinking Leonard here) and justice usually prevailed (Parker, anyone?). Corruption among democratically selected or delegated authority was dangerous, but isolated and rare.

Ellroy reminds me justice is an artificial construct, variously interpreted and seldom achieved. I saw this at work in the O.J. Simpson trials. Ellroy reminds me that power corrupts. Not now and then, here and there, but always, everywhere. And he shows me many ways, small and large, that this happens. I can see Ellroy's petty corruptions at work on just about every "live" TV cop show. He reminds me that the most successful criminals insinuate themselves into positions of power. I see his compulsive, obsessives among consumers who shop to feel good, among the highly-valued workaholics who run our largest corporations, among commuters driving big, near empty cars to work each day, and among the workers who perform the same tasks over and over to manufacture those same cars. I see them among health nuts, alcoholics, addicts, abstainers, gamblers, smokers, religious fanatics who think they can overcome evil if enough people are killed, among any and all of us who thank that if one dose of something doesn't make people behave, then two will almost certainly do the trick.

Ellroy shows me that the diverse, well-rounded life is the exception, not the rule in industrialized society. We're a mix of these obsessives and compulsions competing for attention and power in anything but an orderly way, just like Ellroy's styles, yet there seems to be a rythmn behind it all, somehow. And the one constant is that his characters still aspire to something better, however unlikely the achievement.

Every plot has been done. What we have, the only hope for something unique, is the author's vision of the world and how it does or doesn't work. Ellroy's style tells us from the first sentence that we're going to see things in a different way.


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