Saturday, September 13, 2014

“Let His Books Speak for Him Again”

Three weeks ago, Los Angeles Times contributor Scott Timberg e-mailed me in hopes of arranging an interview. He was putting together a piece about James Ellroy’s new novel, Perfidia, the opening installment of that author’s “Second L.A. Quartet” of nourish tales, and wanted my thoughts on Ellroy’s reputation and his evolution as a crime writer. I was pleased to respond, and a couple of my quotes wound up in Timberg’s finished feature.

Subsequently, though, Timberg wrote to ask permission to post our entire e-mail Q&A in his blog, CultureCrash. I agree, and so you can now find more of my opinions on Ellroy’s work (which the Times man calls “so damned insightful”) here. Included is this exchange:
I wonder if there’s any sense that he’s lost some of his momentum recently: He has a TV show that went nowhere, his memoir (much of which was quite good, I thought) did not set the world on fire the way My Dark Places did, movies of his work have not matched the success of L.A. Confidential, and he had a very public affair here in L.A. [with] a fellow writer that didn’t end well. Does he seem to be at a funny, maybe vulnerable point now?

I do think many readers look at Ellroy differently now than they did when he first achieved widespread popularity in the mid-1980s. Part of that is a consequence of the higher profile he’s gained since then. We know more details about his life than we did 30 years ago--more about his boyhood delinquency and his teenage years as a self-described “perv,” his obsession with his mother’s slaying and his troubled relationships with women, his alcoholism and his nervous breakdown--and not all of that has cast him in the most favorable light. When he first began writing, his novels were judged on their own strengths and weaknesses; now we perceive each new book partly through our understanding of his personal life, past and present.

That’s unfortunate, but it’s just the way it is. He seems to revel in the ego-stroking that comes from being recognized, being acclaimed by critics, and being courted by the media and by filmmakers alike. But Ellroy may have exposed himself too much. Perhaps he should turn his back on the limelight for awhile, adopt a lower profile, and let his books speak for him again. They’re probably the best ambassadors he could send out into the world.
Again, if you’re interested, you can find the full interview here.

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