Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Ellroy - X-offender?

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 14 Dec 2002

I responded to Kerry's assertion that Ellroy's panty-sniffing exploits lent him veracity with:

"So, to pick just one, Donald Westlake's work lacks veracity because he is "nothing but" a damn good writer?"

Kerry responded:

"I didn't say that. And you know better."

You're right. I do.

However, I don't think my (or Kevin's, if I'm reading him right) objection is not so much to Ellroy's past as to the way he exploits that past. You may very well be right that it informs his work, lends it veracity. But why does he have to smirkingly tell us the same damn stories over and over again?

For instance, let me compare him to George Pelecanos. George talks very little about any possible misdeeds in his past. He is even sorry he ever publicly told the one personal story he did, about a gun going off and almost killing a friend. It seems pretty clear that much of his writing, particularly his early books, is based on personal experience, but George wishes to be judged by his work, so he tries to fade behind it.

Ellroy never lets us forget his past. He recounts, at high volume, every sleazy little thing he did in his youth. And while I'm sure he was indeed a slimy little shit, I refuse to believe he is not inflating his roll in the mud. It no longer has anything at all to do with veracity, but with myth making. He is now writing his own persona larger than his characters. And it is affecting his work, in my mind. I found the uniformity of voice, the same voice as his public persona, in American Tabloid incredibly tiresome. It killed my interest in reading any of his future fiction. And I was once a huge fan, turned all of my friends on to him. To my ear, with that book, he became a self-parody, intentional or not.

On top of that, I could no longer ignore the racism, misogyny and homophobia in his books. Up until then, I had pretty much accepted his rationalization that it was the characters and the times, not himself who felt that way. But it is his choice to write only about those times
(and it's not like his earlier, contemporary books didn't have similar characters with similar views) and those kinds of characters. Yes, I've seen Kerry's defense that he is exposing the corruption, bigotry, etc., in our society. No, he's not. He's wallowing in it. And sometimes he's so gleeful about it that he seems to me to be championing it. His work is pure nostalgie de la boue. He misses those (whether mythic or real) good old days when strong white men were strong white men, for good and bad, and everyone else knew their place.


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