Noted crime writer Ellroy (Blood’s a Rover, 2009, etc.) presents a sharp-tongued, acidic memoir of his life and loves.
The author’s loose-living mother, Jean Hilliker, has figured deeply in his previous work—one need only read The Black Dahlia (1987); his father less so, and Ellroy paints him memorably: “He had the bunco-artist gab and the grin…He dodged work and schemed like Sergeant Bilko and the “Kingfish” on Amos & Andy. The pastor at my church called him ‘the world’s laziest white man.’ He had a sixteen-inch schlong. It dangled out of his shorts. All his friends talked about it. This is not a wacked-out children’s reconstruction.” That’s a volatile combination sure to leave marks on a young boy’s psyche, but it’s the mother’s curse—to say just what it is would steal some of Ellroy’s thunder—that really does him in. The author’s ’50s is not that of Leave It to Beaver—not with Dad and Mom setting the examples. By the time he was 13, Ellroy was chugging cheap wine, peeping into windows and reading deeply into warlock-haunted literature that “formally sanctioned me to lie still and conjure women.” Ah, and the women he conjured. There’s Susan, who swigged cough syrup and downed stolen pills with him (“we talked classical music shit endlessly”); Charlotte (who “thought I drank too much”); Helen (“I lacked her omnivorous view of the world in all its lively flux. She lacked my brutal will”; and…well, a lot of ands, remembered over half a century in this Nabokovian exercise in time travel, with confessions of vice and addiction and, mostly, half-truths told and believed. It’s vintage Ellroy, full of bile and invective and utterly unsparing to anyone—including the author himself, who manages to let slip away most of the good things he finds and spends a few fortunes in the bargain, yet keeps on plugging.
A fervent portrait of the artist as a young screw-up—an old one, too, who writes like an avenging angel.