Monday, May 4, 2015

Best Read, April

Life is easing its way back to normal here at Castle Schadenfreude—now that I’m actually in Castle Schadenfreude—so reading time was disrupted for much of the month. Add that to my reading a book that deserved to be savored, and I have only one to report. But it’s a good one.

The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy. Few writers can lock me into a book the way Ellroy can, but it’s also tiring at times, the text is so intense. (Why it took me a while to read.) No one weaves historical fact and fiction together as well. A year’s research would be needed to pull apart what really happened and what didn’t. As in The Black Dahlia, Ellroy uses one of his characters to “solve” an actual unsolved murder, though the Sleepy Lagoon case is used more as counterpoint to the Communist witch hunt plot. Ellroy is a master at showing not only how much things have changed, but also how little; human frailty, and the willingness—and ability—of others to exploit it are constant themes.

Almost any paragraph could be chosen at random as a textbook example of his constantly evolving style. Ellroy isn’t quite to his fully mature “tabloid” language that reaches its fruition in American Tabloid, but all the elements are coming together. As always with Ellroy, The Big Nowhere is densely plotted and written, but few writers have Ellroy’s ability to pull the reader into a book as viscerally as he does.

I made the mistake if beginning my acquaintance with Ellroy through The Cold Six Thousand, a book
even he admitted went too far in its stylistic brutality. Since then I have come to regard him almost as highly as his public persona would lead you to believe he regards himself. There are a handful of contemporary writers I can read who make me sit back with a wistful, “Damn, he’s good.” No one else brings to mind the word “genius” as often as Ellroy.

(Happy birthday, Maynard Ferguson, wherever you are.)

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