Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stark evidence

Review of the new Ellroy in NYRB suggests the extent to which Westlake/Stark has become a touchstone for the Johnny come lately cognoscenti:

I read the trilogy with a distinct, strong, and rather obscure pleasure, asking myself why, as I went along. I thought at first it must be related to why I like the Parker crime novels by Donald Westlake, which also feature an utterly conscienceless but superbly competent professional thief and killer and are also written in a minimalist style—though nothing like as extreme in its minimalism as Ellroy's novels. I wondered if it must be tonic in some way to slip yourself into the personae of fearless sociopaths and then come out of it. But the Parker novels are short, like spasms, requiring nothing like the commitment that Ellroy demands. And the Parker stories are not concerned with large political questions. Reading Ellroy is not like reading Westlake or anyone else.


Tulkinghorn said...

I have two books sitting in front of me -- one of which will make it as airplane reading for yet another vacation I'm taking next week to Boston:

Blood's a Rover and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.


If I were you (perish the thought) I'd welcome the process of cultural absorption of your personal enthusiasms. Mysteriously, though, it seems to irritate you.

Although I admit that the insertion of Westlake into a discussion of somebody who is no more like Westlake than Ronald Firbank is like Westlake seems bogus.

Generic said...

"An average critic never recognizes an achievement when it happens. He explains it after it has become respectable." - R. Chandler

Tulkinghorn said...


I suppose a shrink or a novelist could explain why this manifests itself as irritation at the losers rather than delight at being a winner.

Christian Lindke said...

Apparently, this reviewer hasn't read much Dashiell Hammett. I'd recommend he peruse The Dain Curse where the protagonist manipulates one of the characters horribly in order to achieve a "just" ends.

Hammett's fiction, as is most pulp fiction, is filled with fearless sociopaths -- or seeming sociopaths. This is nothing new.

I do agree with Tulk though that you should praise the fact that Parker is invading the popular consciousness, while simultaneously pointing out that those who compare Ellroy to Westlake are essentially comparing Tolkien to Howard (who also wrote near sociopath characters).

Generic said...

"I suppose a shrink or a novelist could explain why this manifests itself as irritation at the losers rather than delight at being a winner."

You yourself pointed out, as I recall, that being too far ahead in cultrural matters can actually be a liability. The key is to hit on something JUST BEFORE everybody else is about to discover it, so that you seem adventurous rather weird or crazy. It's the "losers" in your formulation who get published in the NYRB, not the "winners."

Tulkinghorn said...


In these matters they are losers, which is one reason to cherish the insights of one's friends more than the insights of some guy in the paper.

To take a recent example: I will have to wait a long time before reading a persuasive article about C.L. Moore in the New York Review of Books. Yet Christian made the case for Moore and the broader case for planetary romance on his blog last week and made my life just a bit better.

When I post something about how Kim Stanley Robinson thinks that Adam Roberts or Iain Banks should get the Booker Prize, I am endorsing the opinion that the Booker elites -- however much I might respect them and the books they like -- are missing the point.

And if Banks's new book makes the shortlist next year, it'll make me happy.

Generic said...

I've been drawing cold comfort from being an honorable loser or quite a few years now. It's getting old.