There are plenty of things to love about James Ellroy's mysteries--from intriguing yet morally questionable characters to the particular staccato character of his prose. Both are present in The Hilliker Curse
, but critics were much less impressed with this memoir than with his fiction. Most felt his prose style confusing, particularly in cases where clarity would seem required. They also had trouble sympathizing with Ellroy's predations, even when he presented a reasonable explanation for his behavior. While many found in his story something to pity, that didn't mean they liked the book. However, Ellroy's most devoted fans may appreciate this added insight into the author's psyche. The rest can move on.
There’s no doubt about it: James Ellroy is a fascinating character. Whether you go for his big-dog-howling-at-the-moon shtick or not, he’s as hard to ignore as a burning fire truck. As he becomes better known, it becomes harder to separate the man from his books—and this book won’t help. His first memoir, My Dark Places (1996), explored the murder of his mother, Jean Hilliker, when he was 10, and the woman-shaped hole in his psyche that he has been falling through ever since. In this short, breathless follow-up, Ellroy attempts to “remove The Curse” by owning his maternal bloodline and by giving us blow-by-blow accounts of his great loves and losses. At first, the revelations are compelling, as the author indicts the tough-guy persona he has so meticulously constructed. Though told with his customary braggadocio, his obsessiveness and neediness are so well limned that it makes the reader’s skin crawl. But his new introspection goes only so far: Ellroy sees himself through the heroic lens of a life writ large, his relationships ordained and heaven-sent. And as their number grows, and their duration lessens, our belief in this enterprise weakens. It becomes a more common tale of a big man with a bigger ego (he coins the word Ellrovian) who blows chance after chance at making relationships work. In the end, his insight fails him, and instead of lifting the curse, he seems more in its thrall than ever. --Keir Graff