Listen to the Interview:
“Tricky Dick won. Close, but no squeaker. Carlos threw a bash. His mock-Roman suite, mobsters and Mormons, election returns on TV. Call girls told I-blew-JFK stories. Farlan Brown said [President Nixon] was no headman. He was more like an S&M slave. He’d get stinko and bomb some Third World shit-hole. He’d fry some kids and get all misty then. He’d bring in a sick chick with a whip to retool him.”
– James Ellroy, Blood’s a Rover
If you sit down with James Ellroy, you will not be disappointed.
In this case, the bestselling author of LA Confidential and the upcoming historical epic Blood’s a Rover is hunkered down at a sidewalk café, dispensing truisms while giving his coffee a lean eye.
“There’s always a Mexican transvestite named Peaches,” he explains affably. He’s talking about his numerous stints in the LA county jail, visits he earned from a string of drugged-up breaking & entering charges back in his twenties. But he’s a different person now.
“I despise reflexive anti-establishmentariansm. I would actually rather live in a society that errs on the side on authoritarianism than one that errs on the side of permissiveness, a stance that shocks a lot of people in the arts.”
Ellroy, whose 1997 memoir My Dark Places details his search for his mother’s murderer, is a self-described brooder who prefers to lie in the dark and think. Ellroy, who tops out at 6’3”, 170 pounds, is elegantly visceral and piercing. He’s still perhaps a little too rangy and powerful to be grouped into the “Literature” section at Barnes and Noble; although Peaches, the Mexican transvestite, did end up kicking his ass in county, the majority of Ellroy’s prose is like machine-gun fire in comparison to the limpid potshots from the majority of his peers. The moral complexity of his characters rivals that of Dostoevsky, while his understanding of realpolitik is perhaps his defining characteristic. His technical gifts as a novelist lie not only in his elaborately structured plots, but also in his incredibly fluid and nuanced characters, who emerge fully formed in a few brief sentences.
As Ellroy refines his craft, his novels keep getting fleshier, even poetic. Blood’s a Rover, which is set in the United States during the period of 1968-72 and features, among others, Richard Nixon and J Edgar Hoover, is a giant departure both aesthetically and emotionally. The novel is a study in heartache, a romantic’s lament for a country that could have been. In one of Ellroy’s trademark eye-blink characterizations, we are pulled effortlessly into the corona of insanity of Howard Hughes, neé Dracula:
“You look through him. It subsumes the shock and diverts the titillation. It deflects the insanity. It was [Wayne’s] sixth face-to-face meet with Dracula. Wayne just discovered the trick.”
Sections of Ellroy’s narrative shift from third person subjective into the first person, allowing him greater leeway in interpersonal expression. He writes from the perspective of left-leaning political activist Karen Sifakis. Her journal entries are cogent and moving, romantic without being sentimental. Here, Karen journals about her love affair with Dwight, a right-wing operator for Howard Hughes:
“‘It’s that we both want something… and that I have a language for it, while he does not.’”