Elaine Showalter

Elaine Showalter
Talking about American Women Writers

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Learning a Little Chutzpah from James Ellroy

I've just been reviewing James Ellroy's latest memoir, The Hilliker Curse.  Clearly, Ellroy is not a woman writer. He is a very macho writer of cult crime fiction and Los Angeles Noir. But he is such a knowing and confident promoter of his own writing, and such an aggressive hustler of his literary persona that I think women writers, who tend to be self-effacing, modest, and genteel, could learn a lot from his style and schticks. Ostensibly, The Hilliker Curse is about Ellroy's doomed pursuit of women who somehow fulfil his guilty memories of his mother, but the subtext of the book is his psyching out the dynamics of bookstore reading and radio self-promotion. As he says "I semi-memorize the passage so that I can stand at the pdoum and share eye contact with the audience. I read shorter sections with as few differentiations in dialogue as possible. Never go long. Never try the audience's  patience." Ellroy spends hours practcing his bookstore gigs, gets snazzy clothes for them, plays to one woman in the audience. He has no hesitation in calling himself "the greatest crime novelist who has ever lived." As one of his interviewers noted, he starts his performances with a strong rhyming riff: "Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I'm James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right and slick trick  with the donkey dick. I'm the author of 16 books, masterpieces all."

Could a woman writer get away with anything remotely close to this?  Probably not; even Camille Paglia risked (and received) plenty of  ridicule. But I'd like to see women writers unafraid to perform.

No comments:

Post a Comment