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John Holmes Motherfucker - 2014-08-01

Wow, THIS submission sure came back from the dead!

I've barely cracked a book since I first got on the internet, and James Ellroy may be the only living author I have any real familiarity with. He has his WTF moments. In THE COLD SIX THOUSAND, he has J. Edgar Hoover use the expression "warp speed", like some kind of Trekkie, and that may have been in 1963, before Star Trek even existed. I can't believe that an editor didn't catch that. But usually, you get a vivid sense of the past with all the sanitized parts restored.

His persona contains a certain amount of bullshit. It's quite possible that he never actually cursed out any old ladies who asked him about Kim Basinger, but telling the story to the camera has its own entertainment, edification, and self promotion value. Telling the story to the camera makes actually DOING IT unnecessary

The place to start with Ellroy is his memoir, MY DARK PLACES, where he tells about his mother's murder when he was ten, when his parents were divorcing and he was just a boy who had no feelings for his mother. She was the parent who disciplined him, and he was glad that she died. I remember that when I was around the same age, my mother was injured badly in a car accident, and what I remember most is being happy that I didn't have to take dance lessons any more. If my mother had died when I was so heartless and disengaged, I think I would have stayed disengaged.

The loss left Ellroy spinning out of control and teeming with unresolved obsessions and serious addictions. He nearly ended up a wet brain alcoholic. He saved his own life by going straight for the darkness by writing about crime. In the memoir, he spares himself nothing. It concludes with Ellroy's own investigation of his mother's murder, which yields no real answers about the murder, but he learns amazing things about his mother.

Years ago, there was an abridged audiobook of Ellroy reading "My Dark Places" I may still have a digital copy somewhere on an old CD Nobody reads Ellroy like Ellroy. Worth a listen if you can find it.

Miss Henson's 6th grade class - 2014-08-01

"My Dark Places" is great, but I'm pretty sure that I'm done with Ellroy. It's a tremendously honest biography: you get to see him as both a helpless alcoholic and a teenage Nazi. Could have done without some of the culture war sermonizing, but that's just him.

The guy is obviously haunted, and while you're right that the guy has written some tremendously vivid historical fiction, I get the feeling that the darkness that fuels his fiction also makes it literarily useless. Everyday villains and everyday evil's not enough for this guy: everyone has to be some sort of twisted Nazi sadist psychopath with the bodies of a dozen kids in the basement. I know it's genre fic, but even by genre standards, the insides of all of his characters look more or less the same and there are no motivations except viciousness and orgasms. It's a book equivalent of the later films of, say Tim Burton, where everything has the same sort of loopy quality and you can't tell one from the other. And then he went and said that he found Obama "obscurely evil!" That, from a guy who ended "The Black Dahlia" the way he did? Sheesh.

John Holmes Motherfucker - 2014-08-01

"My Dark Places" is essential for everyone. Everything else is for specialized readers.

If you watch the documentary, I think you'll see some answers to the points you've raised, but as long as you've read "My Dark Places", being done with Ellroy is a perfectly valid choice, and I wouldn't presume to try to talk you out of it.

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