A Romantic Writes: James Ellroy in Love
Oh, man: and you thought reading The Cold Six Thousand was tough going—just be glad you weren’t the one who had to write it. By the time James Ellroy had finished connecting all his outline’s dots, in a great haul of amphetamine-fuelled grandiose ambition, his nerves were already on their way to being shattered completely. The strike and final collapse came during the book-tour, in Milwaukee at a luxury hotel of all the damned places. When he got into the elevator at the Pfister, “Three very tall black men evil-eyed me. I weaved and mimicked them.” When he made it all the way up to the penthouse floor, reporters were waiting there, and he assumed they were there to interview him. “I was wrong. Basketball play-offs were raging. The black guys were Milwaukee Bucks.” When he got to his room, he passed out, collapsed, feared insanity and cancer, cancelled his tour, went home to Kansas City, and lived out the termination of his second marriage.
This is the part of his song that Ellroy hasn’t sung before, not entirely or in public. The first pages of The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women tell a story that readers of Ellroy are more than casually acquainted with, from his personal essays in GQ and from his 1997 memoir My Dark Places. Admirers of that book will be surprised here to find Ellroy confessing to shortcomings in both its conception and its execution. In part an autobiography telling of his mother, Jean Hillker’s, death when he was just a little boy in 1950s Los Angeles and his subsequent dysfunction as he stalked, spied, fantasized, and ineptly sought the company of women, and then, as well as that, an account of his attempt to investigate and finally solve the case, some four decades later, Ellroy here confesses that writing “the Hilliker/Ellroy journey as a crime tale” was “a specious task from the get-go,” because “Jean Hilliker and I comprise a love story.” He was “deliriously willful and callow” back then, believing “that all resolutions could be contained within narrative form.”
I consider it fraudulent and dramatically expedient now. I differentiated her with some minor details and let the convenient and viable theme of oneness stand as the truth. I did not acknowledge the calculated maliciousness of The Curse or reveal that I would never know Jean Hilliker as long as I sought atonement in women.
So now, in The Hilliker Curse, he seeks to first correct My Dark Places and then to amplify and expand upon it, taking his troubled tale of sexual relations through all the insignificant relationships that both preceded and emerged from his first successes as a writer. He writes about his first marriage, and then, much more significantly, his second marriage, to a woman named Helen. That relationship takes us through more than half the book, all the way up to his nervous collapse in 2003 while touring behind The Cold Six Thousand. Ellroy is just as raw and dramatic and moving on what made that marriage so right as he is, much later, on what made it go wrong, and never appears to be evading culpability for whatever mistakes he made.
After that marriage ended, the mistakes, seemingly, were just beginning. He gets involved with a woman named Joan (“one of only two women who had ever astonished me,” Helen being the first), and when that relationship begins going south, Ellroy’s “nerves and sleep imploded.
The tape show spun. She’s dancing, she’s fucking black guys, she’s seeking monster meat. I could not stop the tapes outside of Joan’s presence. I wanted more, more, MORE of her.
Joan engaged a therapist to walk us through our shit. The woman liked her and loathed me. Wednesday afternoons under a microscope. Implosive tension—I must fight or run.
After this there’s an unhealthy relationship with a married woman, and then, if you believe in such things, there’s a somewhat healthy one. If you want the suspense of how the final act develops and then concludes, you should, when you read the book, be careful to avoid the dedication page. This is autobiography that runs up to the minute, which only makes its candor that much more courageous. The uniform pacing of Ellroy’s prose, those slanged-out staccato rhythms telegrammatically transmitted, begin, with each advancing revelation, to develop their own sure rhythm, and, with the undeniable authenticity of a man writing not just for his life but about it, too, all the sharp alliterative marching of his sentences seems less arch, more urgent, than in the fiction. He had wished his mother dead and then she died. She blessed him with a subject and a milieu and a sensibility, and cursed him with a life of guilt, lust, preordained preoccupation.
Jean Hilliker would be 95 now. The Curse is 52 years old. I have spent five decades in search of one woman to destroy a myth. That myth was self-created and speciously defined. I imposed a narrative line to ensure my own survival. It levied blame to suppress grief and vouchsafe my crazy passion. The Curse was half a blessing. I’ve survived just fine.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Amanda Bynes’s Behavior Revealed to Be Elaborate PSA
- 2 Obama Horrified by the Grammar in Our Emails
- 3 Monster Fart Prompting Management to Rethink “Open Office”
- 4 NSA Demanded Access To Un-Filtered Instagram Photos
- 5 Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Ambushed By Alan ‘The Paper’ Rubinstein
- 6 ‘Licensed to Kim Jong Il’ Records 27th Straight Year Atop N. Korean Charts
- 7 ‘A/S/L’ Most Asked Question At Kaplan Online University Reunion
- 8 Stanley Cup Final One Blowout Away From “Boston Massacre” Headline Outrage
- 9 Vice Magazine Now Only Hiring Writers Who Fail Drug Test