James Ellroy and ‘Perfidia’: A First Look


Hollywood Reporter, "Perfidia"

Following on its exclusive that James Ellroy was scripting a remake of “Laura,” The Hollywood Reporter posted an excerpt of Chapter 2 from Ellroy’s upcoming novel “Perfidia.” It’s a brief selection, and it may not reflect the entire book, but I suspect it’s enough to show once again that that Ellroy long ago crossed over from writer into self-parody.

I can’t claim to be intimately familiar with all of Ellroy’s works. I thought “My Dark Places” was probably the best of what I have read because his notorious excesses were mostly restrained. My friend Miles Corwin is a big fan of “The Hilliker Curse,” but having been friends with Ellroy during some of that period in his life, I have no desire to read about it.

As Ellroy’s throngs of ardent fans will recall, “Perfidia” is the first of a new quartet that is a prequel to his “L.A. Quartet” that began with “The Black Dahlia” (1987) and continued through “The Big Nowhere” (1988),  “L.A. Confidential” (1990) and “White Jazz” (1992).

This excerpt is described as a diary entry kept by Kay Lake, who appears in the novel “The Black Dahlia” and was played by Scarlett Johansson in the ghastly and grotesque 2006 Brian De Palma movie, adapted from the novel by Josh Friedman.

Keep in mind that this is supposed to be a diary. Kept by a female character.

It is, however, Ellroy’s typical jagged, awkward prose with the usual odd rhythms, overburdened with stiff, starched words the length of a freight train and it is no different than every other piece of Ellroy’s jagged, awkward, overburdened and eccentric prose, as if written by a computer stuffed with Ellroy’s complete works.

For example: A kangaroo court is “convened” not “held” or the typical clumsy sentences: “He entered my life to facilitate my destiny” and “The girl was slow to condemn or exonerate the man accused.”  Awkward, dry and dull.

Consider this:

“I live a dilettante’s life now. My compulsive sketch artistry is a schoolgirl’s attempt to capture confounding realities. My piano studies and emerging proficiency with the easier Chopin nocturnes stall my pursuit of a true cause. This lovely home in no way allays my psychic discomfort… “

Or this:

“Sioux Falls was an insufficient destiny. The winter cold spells and summer heat waves left people dead. Indians strayed from nearby reservations and stabbed one another in speakeasies. Klansmen broke a Negro man out of the county jail…. The Klansmen staked him over a red-ant hill in mid-August. The summer or the ants killed him.”

Do you see how generic this is, as if Ellroy just grabbed it out of the air? Which Indians? Which reservation? And since when did the Klan bother with a trial and avoid its preferred methods of execution, which were the rope and the gun?

Billy Wilder once said of Marilyn Monroe that she was like a man who has written a hit song and thinks he can compose a symphony. And so it is with James Ellroy. After failing to break out of genre fiction with “Cold Six Thousand,” he has returned to his old haunts and found nothing but ghosts.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 2014, Black Dahlia, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood, LAPD and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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