Should I feel guilty for liking James Ellroy?

I’ve read a bunch of James Ellroy’s novels, including the L.A. quartet, American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and a couple of others. I find his writing to be extremely intelligent, densely plotted, and remarkably thought provoking. I think that American Tabloid is the best novel I have ever read about the JFK assassination.

However, one thing disturbs me about his work, and that is the rampant racism of most of his characters, even his ostensible protagonists. Now I understand that he is depicting the thought processes of specific characters set during a specific era (usually cops in the 1950’s) and I don’t confuse the attitudes of a character with the attitude of the author, but I have also noticed that Ellroy never seems to depict any black character who is not a pimp, a drug addict, a rapist or a murderer. Granted, he is portraying seedy underworlds, but wouldn’t at least ONE good black person pop up once in a while, even in this milieu.

The same goes for homosexuals in his novels. They are routinely sneered at by his protagonists and are often portrayed as amoral.

It is hard to know how to take this stuff. Ellroy specializes in moral ambiguity. His protagonists are often bad people. I have a hard time believing that Ellroy is himself a racist or a homophobe (he seems too smart for that) but maybe I’m wrong.

So, has anyone else read Ellroy? What do you think? Should I feel guilty for enjoying his work?

IMO, I would say not - you’re not going along the mindset of “gee, this guy got published so I’m going to adopt his views,” from the sound of it. Would you feel guilty about reading Gone With The Wind?

I guess there could be an argument to be made for “why support it by buying his books,” but I’m not sure how much weight that carries, especially if they are otherwise as good as you say they are. (I’ve never read them, personally.) Good writing is good writing - even if it happens to portray ideas you don’t agree with.

Enjoy a good book for the worthwhile qualities you find in it and discard the rest.

I read them all, and it doesn’t bother me. If I understand it correctly things were very diferent then. The gay community didn’t exist in the open, they lived in a shadow world of constant denial, co-existing with hookers, drug addicts and what have you. It doesn’t mean that they were bad people, just that they were forced underground and mixed with other elements the society chose not to see.
And blacks? How many could have a good middle class career back then. What chances of making serious money did they have? Sports, music… and probably crime(I know I’m over simplifying here). Since Ellroy’s books deals with crimes, I’m not surprised.

I enjoy him very much and think that The Cold Six Thousand is one of the top five books published in the last ten years. I think one of the things appelaing about them, is that he is writing them as if they were contemporary novells. He’s not applying hindsight and trying to be politically correct, but rather writing in the style of Mickey Spillane and James Hadley Chase, but with topics that are much more serious and themes they couldn’t get away with then. That’s also why there is so much racism in them. Read any of the crime novells from the era, and compare.

If it makes you feel any better, Ellroy IS a racist and a homophobe, and he doesn’t think too highly of women in general, either.

Not that I think that matters when one is considering his creative output. I like to listen to Richard Wagner’s music, but I wouldn’t want him as a weekend guest.

Just out of curiosity, are you basing this statement on your evaluation of his work alone, or are you aware of him expressing these attitudes in a context outside of his writing (interviews,etc.)?

Diog’, pul-ease! Ike is one of the high panjandrums of New York publishing—he touches up Susan Sontag’s white streak! He sews the leather patches on John Updike’s tweed jackets! He broke the cap key on e.e. cumming’s typewriter! He introduced E.L. Doctorow to the concept of “ellipses!”

Really? Wow. Ok then, I’ll take his word for it. It’s disappointing though.

I would still like a cite, though.

Eve, you’re wonderful. You probably even know what length gloves to wear on every social occasion. I put you right up there with Dorothy Parker. “Where’s the man who could ease the heart like a satin gown?”
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I’d be surprised and disappointed to learn Ellroy was racist. I’d like to see some back up on that allegation.

In a book tour stop he did down here, he mentioned that he thought Martin Luther King was the greatest American of the 20th century and one of his heroes.

Regardless, whether he’s a racist or not, I love his books.

E! did an hour interview with him a few years ago because of the popularity of LA Confidential.

He did come off as QUITE misogynist to me.

I just went back to a research paper I wrote that included information about Ellroy.

To quote from my own work:

"Geneva Ellroy(nee Hillicker) was found on June 22, 1958 in a field by a little league team and three coaches on the grounds of Aroyo High School. A circumstance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the murder twisted son James Ellroy into a vindictive, bitter man who in print and on television refers to his mother as “a whore.(E!)”

E! True Hollywood Story: James Ellroy. E! Televison: 1999

Well, not to give too much away, but Ike does know him personally. I mean, they’re not pals, but they have met professionally from time to time.

Ellroy wrote extensively about his mother’s murder in his autobiography My Dark Places. He describes ambiguous feelings about her in the book, but he also expresses many positive feelings. As an adult, he spent years trying to solve his mother’s murder, and hired a private detective to help. Ellroy also describes becoming obsessed with the Black Dahlia case, struck by the similarities to his mother’s case, as well as serial killers and crime stories in general. He talks about becoming lost in complex, drug-fueled fantasies about “saving” women from killers. (and being rewarded with sex) Eventually he became clean and sober and these fantasies became the basis for his fiction.

There is more in the book which may be illuminating. He was raised by a racist, misogynist, homophobic father.

Ellroy talks about wearing swatikas on his clothes, reading nazi literature, and spouting racist propganda at people. He says he did this mostly to shock people and that he didn’t really believe it.

He describes becoming a peeping tom and a burglar, breaking into women’s houses and stealing their underwear.

He is not kind to himself in this book. It is stunning in its candor and self-loathing. It is also clear that the murder of his mother permeated his entire life, affecting both his self-image and his image of women. He does not say much about relationships with women other than his messed up Oedipal saviour fantasies.

All in all, though, I got the impression from the book that he had risen above some of his earlier attitudes. (at least above the racism) but it’s difficult for me to figure out where he actually stands.

I agree with Gaspode and hugh, though. I would like to see some tangible evidence that JE is really a racist.

Ike, ya wanna jump in here and help me?

—Eve (who accidentally typed “Ikea,” and realized for the first time how similar those two words are!)

Thanks, Eve. You forgot to mention that I put the “sha” in “Ooo-Bop-a-Sha-Lop.”

Ummmm, can’t really do that, if you want me to produce his membership card in the Klan. But I knew the guy professionally for many years, hung around with him in many business and social situations, and as soon as the doors were closed we heard all about how Jews couldn’t be trusted, how all Af-Ams were niggers, and how women were put on this planet expressly to be fucked by Ellroy.

Now, he may have only been teasing, and as soon as he left the room immediately Took a Negro To Lunch. I’m just calling it as I seen it.

On the other hand, once he returned a wallet he found in a taxicab to the rightful owner, without even swiping the cash first, so his heart isn’t all evil.

Thanks, Ike, I guess that’s about what I was looking for. I’m disappointed but not exactly shocked.

Oh well, I understand that Faulkner was a piece of shit too.

Exactly. And Nelson Algren kicked his dog. But fuck that personality shit, the books are good!

" . . . and Oscar Wilde . . . Big, bearded, bonking, butch Oscar. The terror of the ladies. One-hundred-fourteen illegitimate children, world heavyweight boxing champion, and author of the best-selling phamplet, Why I Like To Do It With Girls."

Yeah, that’s what I was looking for too. Count me as disappointed but not exactly shocked as well.