tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > Destination: Morgue!

Destination by James Ellroy
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Dec 10, 2010

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Ok, I'm really sick of writing reviews. There was a time when I corresponded w/ about 1,400 people & I kept track of it all w/ a record-keeping system that became so laboriously bureaucratic that I got sick of it & lost touch w/ almost everyone. Now the same thing's happening w/ bks. Almost everytime I read one I start to have such detailed responses to them that it's becoming a ridiculous chore to try to write a review. It's taking the fun out of reading. SO, keep that in mind as I try to write THIS review.

Ellroy: At 1st I was very impressed by him. The writing had style, there was a brutal realism. Then I started realizing how tediously obsessed he is w/ writing about women being tortured & killed. But, still, it's engrossing stuff in a classic pulp crime fiction way - & it ups the ante for such stuff way beyond what the writers of the 30s thru the 50s cd've ever gotten away w/. & I liked his JFK era trilogy alot as 'conspiracy theory' stuff. AND I was interested in his personal history. SO, I keep coming back.

This is a collection of short nonfiction & crime fiction - much of wch has been previously published in GQ (Gentlemen's Quarterly). Am I a GQ kindof a guy? Hardly. So that shd be a warning. In "Where I Get My Weird Shit" he reminisces about his yrs at a predominantly Jewish High School:

"[..] I wanted to promote myself as strictly unique and attract commensurate notice. I was a rebel with self-aggrandizement as cause.

"I pondered the dilemma. I hit on a solution. I joined the American Nazi Party. I debuted my führer act in the West L.A. shtetl.

"It backfired - and worked.

It got me some attention. It got me recognized as a buffoon. I did not subvert the status quo at Fairfax High School. I did not derail the Jewish hegemony. I passed out hate tracts and "Boat Tickets to Africa." I anointed myself as the seed bearer of a new master race. I announced my intent to establish a Fourth Reich in Kosher Kanyon. I defamed jigaboos and dug the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. I ragged Martin Luther Coon and hawked copies of "The Nigger's 23rd Psalm." I got sneered at, I got laughed at, I got pushed, I got shoved. I developed a sense of politics as vaudeville and got my ass kicked a few times. I learned how to spin narrative and elicit response. I knew that I didn't hate Negroes or Jews - as long as they comprised a rapt audience. [..]"

Earlier in the same article he writes about liking Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer character & states that he became "a childhood Red basher". He hoarded scandal rags & skin mags. WELL, that explains alot. I've read Spillane's "One Lonely Night". It was one of the worst bks I've ever read. In the 1951 Signet paperback edition I have there's a cover picture of a naked white girl hanging from ropes attached to the ceiling & tied to her wrists. In Spillane's purely propagandistic world, it's the dirty commies who're doing this to her. Somehow, I think it wasn't really a common thing for communists in the US to hang naked women from ceilings as a part of their political activities. Of course, what the fuck did Spillane care? Anti-commie drek SOLD in the 50s & as far as I can tell not only was Spillane a pretty shitty writer he had no political scruples whatsoever.

Ellroy seems to take Spillane to a new 'level'. In "Jungletown Jihad" I assume this 'level' is parody. the section entitled "Homeland Security" begins w/ the purple prose of: "It justified jerry-rigged justice. It mandated mucho mayhem. It took us to torture techniques." As the torturing Vietnam vet cop sends electric charges to the testicles of the person being tortured, the victim screams out slogans like: "Viva PLF! Viva gay marriage! Viva Robert Mapplethorpe and freedom of expression! Viva National Public TV!" Parody or not, this bk came out in 2004 & it has its protagonists torturing an Arab sympathizer terrorist - a 'leftist'. WELL, the character's ridiculous - but as w/ the writings of Spillane in the McCarthy era, I suspect that Ellroy's cops torturing this guy cd've made his readership ACCEPT that the US's torture is acceptable & even FUNNY. NOT.

Later, in Ellroy's other autobiographical story, "My Life as a Creep", Ellroy concludes his story w/:

"I attribute my survival to the seldom-sought presence of Almighty God. Skeptics and inclusionists might scoff at this. They can kiss my fucking ass."

Oh well, I don't "scoff" at this, I downright reject it - & I have no intention of ever kissing Ellroy's ass. The point of all this is that Ellroy really hasn't changed that much from when he was a kid. His stories are a newish variation on the hateful sensationalism he grew up on. The purple prose that started out as the style of his character Danny Getchell, the "Hush-Hush" sleaze-monger, has more of a presence here than usual. His recurring cop protagonist, Detective Jenson, is constantly using racist slang like "coon" but never uses racist slang that I know LA cops of his era used: "cans". A friend of mine's brother was an LA cop & he wd say: "I'm going out to shoot some Cans - AfriCans, MexiCans." Nyuk nyuk, right? Ellroy's continual use of this slang both serves as realism AND as sensationalism. Wch dominates?

The nonfiction covers prominent politicized criminal cases: Gary Graham aka Shaka Sankofa. On p 86 there's a foto of him in "2002". The article ends saying that Graham was executed in "2000". Wch is it? According to WikiPedia:

"Shaka Sankofa (born Gary Lee Graham) (September 5, 1963 – June 22, 2000) was a Texas death-row inmate who was sentenced to death at the age of 18 for the murder of fifty-three year-old husband and father Bobby Grant Lambert in Houston, Texas on May 13, 1981. Despite his claims of innocence, he was executed by lethal injection at 8:49 pm on Thursday, June 22, 2000 in Huntsville, Texas, aged 36."

Ok, no biggie, there's a date error in the picture's caption. Shortly before Sankofa's execution, he was a bit of a cause célebre. Presumably Ellroy's article was written for GQ b/c of this. It ends w/ "Gary Graham might die this year. This piece is my petition to spare his wretched life." Graham was hardly an 'innocent' man in general but, as Ellroy points out, "The County has a one-witness case." He follows this w/ a quote from the bible: "[..] a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness." SO, I think Ellroy tries to be thorough & fair. He didn't like Graham but he thought there was too much room for doubt regarding the murder that he was executed for.

By the by, according to an online source referencing a 1993 African film, "Sankofa is an Akan word that means, "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today."" If I understand correctly, Gary Graham renamed himself to identify as an African warrior attempting to reclaim his past so that he cd move forward into a better future.

On the other hand, Ellroy HATES former SLA supporter/member Sara Jane Olson aka Kathleen Soliah. As he writes regarding the SLA: "They're loony left-wing losers." Conspiracy theorist Mae Brussell thought they were a CIA creation. I always found Brussell to be very well-informed - judging from the little I know of her. I diagree w/ both of them. I think Ellroy's roots in Mickey Spillane are showing.

In the end, I'll keep reading Ellroy - so he's succeeded w/ his high school purpose of learning "how to spin narrative and elicit response". But, ultimately, he's kindof a bore in contrast to the subtle psychology of fellow crime fiction writer Patricia Highsmith, eg. He's not as much of an asshole as Spillane but his subtexts are still seething w/ hate & stupidity. & I reckon readers of GQ are his most enthusiastic fan-base - wch doesn't say much for intelligence.

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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Simon I think there's a lot of layers of irony in Ellroy's writing you're missing. In the stuff I've read he comes across as obviously satirical towards the stereotypical American right-wing machismo. He depicts it in such a grotesque manner and admits his own indulgence in it with the purpose of making a point. Of course, the danger with such satire is that its targets usually don't realize they're being mocked in the first place...

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