Read as part of CBR11Bingo: Biography/Memoir
As I said a few weeks ago in my review of This Storm, I recently met James Ellroy at a book signing. I confess to feeling some intimidation. I’ve heard many stories over the years of Ellroy’s abrasive and forward personality in public. I shared in a social media group about getting ready to meet Ellroy and one guy shared a story about him fat shaming a kid at a book signing. Granted, it was hearsay but in line with what I expected.
Anyway, once Ellroy got there, he spoke in his typical rhyming, alliterative patter. It was like he was narrating one of his books to us as a character. And gradually, my nervousness began to fade. Because what I saw in him was someone working through their anxiety. I don’t know James Ellroy from Adam and I’m not a psychiatrist but it was obvious to me. He was nervous and that’s how he dealt with his nervousness.
Once he started meeting fans, he was kind and incredibly gracious with his time. He’d sign anything anyone put in front of him, even if they had multiple copies of his books, and was quite willing to pose for pictures. He and I joked about being Lutheran and we took a photo at the end, which I did not anticipate. I was glad I went.
I share all of this because reading My Dark Places helped me understand more of Ellroy’s personality and why he is who he is. He lived a rough life for a long time. The pawn in the middle of a battle ground between two divorced parents (relatable), he didn’t seem too upset by his mother’s horrific death initially. But this meant he was raised by a man who had no business being a parent. Ellroy’s father’s lack of parental oversight sent the younger Ellroy on a downward spiral from which he was fortunate to recover from. And he has lived a monastic life since, which helps keep him from temptation.
What I appreciated about this book, and by extension its author, is how raw and honest Ellroy is about his life. Nothing is out of bounds, including many psychosexual things that probably should have been. He writes it just like he writes a typical Ellroy tale: fully targeting its subject and completely devoid of any sentimentality. The verbiage he uses to describe himself could just as easily be used to describe any LA lowlife from his novels.
As he gets older and decides to follow up on his mother’s murder, Ellroy is able to meld his trademark style of crime solving with the importance of the personal journey he undertook. It makes for compelling reading, particularly the end, when he stares down a large revelation that brings his entire story into focus.
If you’re an Ellroy fan, you have to read this. It reads like his own book and it gives you a clear picture of what makes the man, for better and for worse.