Re: RARA-AVIS: Ellroy

Date: 27 Nov 2002

> At 05:32 PM 25/11/2002 -0800, you wrote
> >Let me quote Kerry Schooley from a few days ago for you then:
> >
> >"Something like 150 million killed in the past century. Yet we prosper and
> >keep counting. I can't think of another author who so effectively catches
> >these amoral, hysterical times. I don't care if he (Ellroy) is an asshole."
> >
> >Sounds like someone describing Ellroy as either transcendent or literary,
> >to me. Of course you could split hairs and say that you don't see either
> >of those words in what is said, but I was responding to the entirety of
> >the post from which I cut and pasted the above statement.
> It's flattering to be quoted, but you might stop attributing your
> subsequent misinterpretations to me, then using me as straw-dog in your
> circular arguments.

First of all, my argument is hardly circular. Secondly, I did not "use you as a straw-dog". I responded to what you said, and when someone else basically said, "I haven't seen anyone say what you're responding to" (I believe it was John Lau), I quoted you. I'm glad you're flattered, because your post was a good and provocative one, hence my response.

> I can only guess at what you mean by "literary", other than that as a
> negative attribute for genre fiction.

Then your guess is either wrong, or. to use your own words, a "misinterpretation". Your choice. "Genre fiction" is, of course a loaded term, but as you are no doubt aware, it is also a trade term in the publishing industry. Some agents handle genre (thriller, P.I., romance, western, and even children's) fiction, others do not. Ditto for publishing houses. I used it as such, with hardly a thought that someone would consider my statements about it derogatory, which is preposterous. But since you did, let me be crystal clear on this point: if I looked down on this genre, I would hardly have read as many of the authors within as I have, and I certainly wouldn't be subscribed to this list.

That said, it is what it is, and although you might think that genre fiction is literary fiction, it's not. That's not my take on it, as there are hb/noir authors out there who I think deal with existential questions far better than some of the supposedly "existentialist" authors in the "literary" canon. Rather, it is the take of the industry. Are they right? Who cares? They're not in business for their health anymore than those you cite below are. That is, however, the industry standard, and that was what I was referring to. Lastly, if you really have an issue with someone contending that Ellroy is NOT literary, you might consider taking it up with the guy who wrote: "I don't think anyone here has referred to Ellroy as either transcendent OR literary," now that you've called me on it.

>But hardboil or noir is unquestionably a literary form.

Reference my last. Or better yet, go to a writer's conference and try to sell a hb/noir work to any agent who has themselves listed with that conference as representing only those authors who write "literary fiction" and see how far you get. Come to think of it, you're Canadian, why not apply for admission to the University of British Columbia's Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program (as I did just last year). They'll want about seventy pages of any novel you happen to be working on, and if you send them a mystery, as *I* did, they will, in all liklihood, send you a very polite letter thanking you for your interest, but they only consider works of a "literary, and not a genre fiction" nature.

So there you have it. I didn't come up with the definition, I only employed it, and it was neither a snide aside, nor pronounced with even the slightest curl to my lip. I will further address your veiled accusation that I'm some sort of literary snob by saying that you're half right. I won't waste my time on something that doesn't hold my attention (I'm reminded of Mark Twain's definition of a "classic", here: "a book which people praise and don't read"), no matter how many people think it's "important". For my money, I'd rather read William R. Cox (thanks again to Bill Crider, who sent me a copy of "Hell To Pay") than William Burroughs any day.

>Ellroy does not transcend the genre. He doesn't need to. From Hammett to
>Chandler to MacDonald to Mosley and Ellroy the genre has always been about the
>individual, as everyman, trying to find and maintain moral values in an amoral
>and corrupt world. As for whether this is one of the "great themes of the
>twentieth century", I don't encounter it much beyond our genre. That's why I
>like hardboiled fiction.

Read Proust, but only if you're up for a real challenge (I never really have been, I've struggled with Proust). Hell, read Camus, for that matter. "The Stranger" is something you might enjoy immensely.

Also, I find it interesting that you mention Hammett, Chandler, (I'm assuming Ross) MacDonald, and Mosely, all of whom are favorites of mine (although I didn't really care much for "Gone Fishin'"). They never bore me (with either their charaterization or their style), which is pretty much my sole criterion for judging whether a book is "good".
> It does seem to me that your objection is to the amount of profanity and
> the universal corruption depicted in Ellroy's books.

...and to his overly "terse" style, and to his complete inability to write a believable female character.

>Not enough recognition of the good people in this world who do things for
>entirely altruistic reasons.

This sentence confuses me. What did you mean here?

> I'll not debate the state of the world with you, but I do think
> that this is not an idea consistent with this genre; that what's needed for
> the world to be right are more positive role models. Or maybe more sit-com
> Fonzies, tough guys with hearts of gold. Spade and Marlow were lone
> knights, but their motivation was anything but altruism. The dick works for
> money, by definition.

Interesting that you make that statement, in light of the fact that with the exception of Ellroy, all of the authors you cited above employ central characters who operate from their own "code" (another aspect of this sub-genre of the mystery story you seem to have overlooked in your decidedly comprehensive and informative examination of its aspects above). I'm not arguing for more "moral" characters, per se. After all, I like Stark's Parker
(another guy who lives by his own "code", and is far more ruthless than most Ellroy's tatterdemalion main characters. I have said over and over again what I dislike about Ellroy, and to reduce my statements regarding his style, et. al., strikes me as disingenuous.

> As for the profanity, you're not the first to determine merit by counting
> the number of bad words used, but it seems a superficial meter at best.

Don't go putting words in my mouth, Kerry, it's committing the sin (creating a straw man) of which you accused me above. I didn't count his profane words, and tally them up on my "worthiness" meter (If I did, I never would have bothered with "Motherless Brooklyn", for example), and to tar me with the "moralist censor" brush is pretty silly.

After all, if I were counting "naughty words", I wouldn't have read *anything* that I myself have written with intent to publish.

Thanks for your response.:) I enjoyed it, and even learned a little.


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