A Confederacy of Sleaze

From contract killing to mainlining Mormon blood, James Ellroy depicts the most lurid of American nightmares

The prince of darkness: James Ellroy
The prince of darkness: James Ellroy

But there is something finally exhausting and numbing about this worldview--as if the author had finally succumbed to his own enveloping sense of the world's bleakness and decided to deny not just all hope, but even its possibility. Ellroy's world is all underbelly, all secret cabals, sex scandals, routine police brutality, mob hits at the behest of rich businessmen. That may well have been true for the author once--anyone who has read his memoir, My Dark Places, understands that Ellroy and random, crude evilness made an early and unforgettable acquaintance--but how many of his readers can honestly subscribe to a vision so unremittingly dark? How long can this by now well-respected and well-compensated writer continue to paint panoramas of slime? Ellroy's inability or unwillingness to lighten up even a little smacks more than a bit of adolescent doom. I for one am tiring of his insistence that goodness is usually a mistake by those who are too tired to do evil, that idealism can only warp its bearer. He's got one more in this latest trilogy to go (Watergate, anyone?), but this is where I get off.

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