The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Sep 7 2010
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“As fascinating as it is at times utterly disturbing.”
“Crime writer James Ellroy’s most compelling mystery story has always been his own . . . But The Hilliker Curse is not meant to be merely a confession. It is an act of creation . . . There’s a truth of feeling in it, too, an underlying sense of what it is actually like to live in the vortex of an impossible yearning . . . Ellroy is expert and relentless at dramatizing the effects [of his obsession].”
—Wall Street Journal
“This latest book is Ellroy’s most intimate and personal . . . It’s forceful and unsparing in its revelations . . . [His sentences] make you grateful to read his prose, with its marvelous fury, passion and energy. They also compel you to keep rooting for him.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Crime novelist Ellroy has given us a wild memoir in his hard-boiled, jazzy, staccato style . . . Quite a read.”
—New York Post
“Perhaps the most confessional memoir I’ve ever read.”
—Dallas Morning News
“From the fantastic writer who brought us unforgettable books like L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia, comes this extraordinary in-depth work about his own life. As always, Ellroy is extremely explicit, writing every word of this memoir with an in-your-face passion, elegance, and anger that will literally stop readers in their tracks . . . Bravo!”
“Ellroy’s characteristically unforgiving portrait of himself as an angry and frustrated teenager is a masterpiece of savage economy . . . There’s no doubt that Ellroy’s is a singular voice.”
“Fascinating . . . A searching and difficult but utterly compelling and often heartbreaking memoir of love and obsession from noir master James Ellroy . . . Readers familiar with Ellroy will recognize and appreciate the machine-gun prose, Los Angeles chiaroscuro and tortured psyche that Ellroy has made his own.”
“A fervent portrait of the artist as a young screw-up—an old one, too, who writes like an avenging angel . . . It’s vintage Ellroy.”
“The Hilliker Curse centers mainly around the author’s doomed relationships, but also gives tantalizing glimpses into the mind of Ellroy the writer . . . As always, the writing is razor sharp, infused with Ellroy’s patented abrasive black humor. He holds nothing back.”
“There’s no doubt about it: James Ellroy is a fascinating character . . . He’s as hard to ignore as a burning fire truck . . . The revelations are compelling, as the author indicts the tough-guy persona he has so meticulously constructed.”
About the Author
James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. He is the author of the Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy—American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood’s A Rover—and the L. A. Quartet novels, The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L. A. Confidential, and White Jazz. American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir My Dark Places was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. The Cold Six Thousand was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001. He lives in Los Angeles.See all Product Description
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Ellroy's angry love relationship with his mother (who struck him when he elected to live with his father) is deep, troubled and obsessive. It displaces into his search for the love of other women and into the writing of novels to win their hearts and attention. Now that he has found peace, with his new relationship, he is able to see the arc of his life, the arc of his work and the arc of the psychosexual dimensions of his identity with greater clarity. In The Hilliker Curse he charts them.
The writing is urgent, honest and impassioned. He gives us names and he gives us details. He exposes the raw nerves, the personal pathologies and the rhythms of his life. The book is one of the very few examples of confessional, high-romantic but (as he puts it) tory autobiography.
The book is an essential one for Ellroy fans and scholars. It illuminates the dark places but also floods them with unexpected light. It is an exceptionally good read, for those with a taste for fevered autobiography. Most important, it speaks to something which is not in high favor these days, but should be--the nature of the creative process. Ellroy is at his most compelling and most obsessive when he writes. Using 300- and 400-page outlines he builds large and imposing narratives consisting of armies of characters whose actions converge on a tiny number of extremely important incidents. He is charting America by looking into its dark corners and he gets to those dark corners by way of his own dark places.
We hear enough about his mother to sketch in the background, very little about his first marriage, a great deal about his marriage to Helen Knode, a lot about his mismatched relationship with a Bay Area professor named Joan (whose transmuted analogue, Joan Klein, figures prominently in Blood's A Rover) and we learn more than I would have expected about his new relationship, with Erika Schickel, to whom the book is dedicated.
I suggest that diehard fans and scholars check out his hour-long interview with Erika that is available on the internet. She tries to deflect attention from their relationship and focus on his writing. At one point she refers to his relationship with Joan as his personal Bay of Pigs. He responds that if that was the case then his relationship with Erika was his personal fall of the Berlin wall. In that moment he was inadvertently summarizing it all: Ellroy as frightened, troubled boy, novelistic colossus, chronicler of America and desperate lover of women--all formed into a single, seamless, strange but fascinating whole.
THE HILLIKER CURSE revisits his life and peripherally skirts around his mother's murder again to reveal his abysmal track record with women, his unending search for 'her'(the ultimate muse/right woman), and his transition from career thief and druggie/drunk to well-known author.
My major problem with this book is the way it is written. Ellroy projects this
street hip personna through a first person account of his life which is peppered (or saturated) with Ellroy-isms. I'm going to describe his style as Sam Spade meets film noir. I found it interesting, but I suspect most readers except die-hard fans might find this an exercise in creative writing that is just plain irritating and distracting.
The other negative is that it becomes rapidly apparent that the narrative is going to drone on miserably re: Ellroy's problem with healthy relationships/personal intimacy. It seems sort of strange to devote an entire book to his problems with women that apparently stemmed from his lousy relationship with his mother. The really sad aspect to all of this is that in the end I really wasn't all that certain Ellroy had truly evolved and kicked this 'curse'. I suspect that reading Freud might be more informative.
The end shot is that while this book was somewhat interesting to me, I'm not sure it would be that interesting to most readers. As a writer, I generally think Ellroy is gifted and interesting and has a noirish charm. When it comes to writing about his own problems, I wish he wouldn't.
I think the book is okay, but certainly not up to his earlier works as L.A. Confidential or The Black Dahlia and which were later turned into movies. I simply liked his earlier works better, but for others who have not read them or who might be interested in a personalized account of clinical depression among other problems this just might be your cup of tea. It's not a literary masterpiece, but you still might like it, especially if you are a Ellroy aficionado.
A great deal of Ellroy's career concerns the death of his mother, Geneva (known as Jean) Hilliker. She was murdered by strangulation when Ellroy was just 10 years old, the victim of a crime that remains unsolved to this day. It is almost impossible to catalogue the multiple psychological traumas that a child of this age would experience as the result and in the aftermath of such an event. Ellroy discusses his efforts to obtain at least partial closure, including the hiring of a private investigator to re-open the case and determine the identity of the killer. He was unsuccessful in this regard. Similarly, his pursuit of women as significant others is darkly affected by his mother's death, as in many ways he seeks a surrogate maternal comfort that was denied to him early on.
Here is where the narration, difficult in its denseness, takes an uncomfortable turn. One sees Ellroy constantly in pursuit of women he cannot or should not have. He's attracted most strongly to females who seem to be his opposite in personality (those in relationships, for better or worse). Whether he is unsuccessful in initiating or maintaining the relationship, Ellroy blames himself, for reasons that the reader sees coming long before they occur, as if the movie reels in a theater have been shown out of order. And reading it can be excruciatingly painful. I recommended the book to a friend of mine, who seems caught up in destructive relationships. "You should read this," I said. He emailed me a three-word message a few days later: "So should you." And he was right. It's difficult to do so without wondering if perhaps Ellroy has scraped the mental dermis down to a level heretofore undisturbed, one that lays a new set of nerve endings painfully raw and exposed.
For all of Ellroy's honesty, however, there is one subject that seems to be given somewhat short shrift. His first marriage, he tells us, was to Mary from Akron, Ohio. He is uncharacteristically short on detail when it comes to the woman herself or the turmoil of the marriage. The subject is covered in less than two pages, the Ellroy equivalent of the dog that doesn't bark, and is all the more intriguing for it. Regardless, there is more than enough revealed in THE HILLIKER CURSE to cause upheaval in any psyche.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub