Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Ellroy

Date: 21 Nov 2002

Kevin wrote:
> Just to make it clear, I have read Ellroy. In fact, I've read most of
> his stuff, although I haven't read his latest (JFK conspiracy
> theories -- zzzzzzzzzz....). I think he's pompous and pretentious and
> too often takes a little boy's delight in offending people and acting
> out. I also think, at his best, he's one hell of a writer.
> Unfortunately, so does he.
> But don't let that stop you. Anyone interested in hard-boiled fiction
> should at least give him a try.
> As for mocking him, while, gee, any ego puffed up that big deserves a
> little prick now and then. And here at Rara-Avis we're just the
> pricks to do it.

* * * * * * *

As the person responsible for starting the latest round of Ellroy "bashing", I suppose it's time I weighed in on the topic of his importance to the genre et al. As a bit of background, I was first exposed to his work several years ago
(late 80s, early 90s) when I read "The Black Dahlia". I was blown away. I thought it one of the finiest mystery novels I had ever read.

I was in college at the time and unable to indulge myself too much in reading for the sake of pleasure, so I lost track of Ellroy. Then about the time I finished grad school, Curtis Martin's film version "L.A. Confidential" came out, and I again discovered Ellroy.

I immediately set about catching up with him. I read "L.A. Confidential", and was, to be honest, disapointed, thinking that this was one of the few times where the film was actually better than the book on which it was based (Tom Clancy's "Patriot Games" being another telling example of this). I then took a chance on "My Dark Places", which was brilliant (and disturbing). Next I went back and re-read "The Black Dahlia", which stood up well to this renewed scrutiny. Following that I gave "The Big Nowhere" a shot, and couldn't finish it. The same went for "Brown's Requiem" (although I really enjoyed his discussions of classical music contained therein). I got part way in to "White Jazz" before the whole incest subplot became too much for me to bother with, and got in the way of my enjoyment of what might have been good prose.

I'm not saying that Ellroy isn't a good writer. I'm saying his work is uneven. As he has become more succesful, along with the "come roll around for a while in my just-used bathwater" I have noted a developing sense of self-consciousness in his work. As this self-consciously pretentious tone has eveolved, the quality of his work has (at least for me) eroded considerably.

There is nothing wrong with having a big ego in any purview, as long as you can deliver (see Hemingway, Ernest: "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"). However, Ellroy commits the "sin" so many writers in the twilight of their careers, at the nadir of their powers do: his ego gets in the way of his telling the story (see Hemingway, Ernest: "Across the River and Into the Trees"), and when a writer forgets that the story IS the main thing, fate/the world/the reading public has a way of evening up the tally book.

This is not to say that Ellroy is at the tail end of his career. After all, Hemingway still had
"The Old Man and the Sea" left in him during all those years while he was either "serving" in Europe, or writing the terrible later novels. I'm just saying that Ellroy's in danger of being mistaken for someone parodying his powerful middle works.

There's my shot across the bow of those who trumpet Ellroy as an "important writer" in noir fiction. I would agree with that assessment, by the way, but only if I were allowed to add a "self-" in front of that phrase. Let the return volleys begin!;)


# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
#  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 21 Nov 2002 EST