Wednesday, August 8, 2007

James Ellroy unleashed -- and unfinished

As long as I'm on the subject of the few books I never finished, a few words about James Ellroy's The Cold Six Thousand, published in 2001 as the sequel to American Tabloid. I tried to read it a few years ago, and have never since seen a book quite like it. Here's an excerpt:

The Casino Operators Council flew him. They supplied first-class fare. They tapped their slush fund. They greased him. They fed him six cold.

Nobody said it:

Kill that coon. Do it good. Take our hit fee.

The flight ran smooth. A stew served drinks. She saw his gun. She played up. She asked dumb questions.

He said he worked Vegas PD. He ran the intel squad. He built files and logged information.

She loved it. She swooned.

"Hon, what you doin' in Dallas?"

He told her.


This isn't just hard-boiled; it's granite pressurized to the density of neutronium. While the staccato style is kind of fun in the early going, it just keeps going. And going. On and on. For 700 pages. Dave got through 200 of them. Dave gave up.

Even though I'm interested in the milieu of both American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand -- corruption and intrigue surrounding the Kennedy assassination -- the style of the second book struck me as an endless affectation, and I could not keep turning the pages.

That said, I may attempt it again one of these days; it's one of those books that has since done pretty well with the critics.

Those are my unfinished books. Anybody else have an example?

7 comments:

Peter said...

I dunno, I guess some people take unreadability as a sign of integrity. One of these days, the staccato monotony might hypnotize me into reading the novel. I wouldn't count out the possibility. I wouldn't count on it, either.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Dave Knadler said...

On the other hand, why bother? It's not like there's a shortage of good books out there.

Peter said...

Well, I won't plan to read it, but one day I could find myself in a secondhand bookshop with a couple of dollars yearning to leap out of my pocket.

As it happens, I've been thinking a bit about Ellroy recently. After I posted my comment about good opening lines, Jerome Weeks of the BookDaddy blog offered his own thoughts on the subject along with some good examples and one bad one -- from L.A. Confidential. The opening really does look bad, even thought I liked the novel.

I remarked that Ellroy must have stopped hyperventilating after the opening, because no author could keep up that rat-tat-tat for five hundred pages, and if he had, I'd never have read it.

I guess The Cold Six Thousand never lets up with its particular stylistic affectation. I can imagine that a few readers in this world might be able to use Ellroy's prose as a kind of incantation, its rhythms lulling them into a trancelike state.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Dave Knadler said...

Maybe you've put your finger on it. As I mentioned, I seem to be one of the few who was really put off by it.

I also enjoyed L.A. Confidential, despite the scenery-chewing at the get-go. Ellroy is a hell of a writer; I just wish someone could have hosed him down a little while he was writing The Cold Six Thousand.

Peter said...

I couldn't cite any examples for you, but I don't think you were the only one put off by it. I seem to recall several caustic critical comments about its "style."
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Where's a good editor when he needed on?

My own disappointment was Daniel Woodrell. I was enmeshed in his excellent Civil War era novel "Woe to Live On" (made into the underappreciated Ang Lee film "Ride With the Devil," and then rereleased under that title).
But when I tried his contemporary crime fiction, (Tomato Red, Muscle for the Wing), I thought he over-relied on his talent for evoking Ozark idioms, etc.

'Nuff said

Daphne

Peter said...

That's an interesting comment, Daphne. I have't read Woodrell, but his crime fiction has been praised for the very qualities you criticize. Perhaps crime-fiction readers are suckers for the stylistic flourish.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/