Book Review: My Dark Places by James Ellroy

My Dark PlacesMy Dark Places
James Ellroy
Vintage Books, 1997
ISBN 0-679-76205-1
Trade Paperback

James Ellroy, prolific Los Angeles crime writer, takes us on a rock-strewn, rutted road through his internal landscape in this memoir, which has at its heart, the loss of his mother to an anonymous murder.

This intimate view of the inside of James Ellroy is not for the faint of heart.  As one reads it, one feels the jagged edges, the desperation, the loneliness and lostness of a boy turned man, still boy, trapped with the feelings of a 10-year-old toward his beautiful, red-headed mother, like a fly trapped in amber.

Mr. Ellroy will be the first to tell the reader, and with frequency, that he transmogrified his feelings toward his mother’s death into his fascination with crime in Los Angeles.  He is one of our living literary giants of noir.  Reading this book shows one how he got there. He lived noir.  He is noir.

Yet, there is redemption.  He should have ended up incarcerated.  He should have wound up dead of an overdose or acute alcohol poisoning.  He should have died an ugly death at the end of a short, tormented life, but he did not.  He lived to thrill us with tales of the dark side, the shadow side that lives in us all.  His courage, talent and genetic midwestern work ethic pulled him out of the muck that wanted to kill him.  The reader is the beneficiary, with not only this memoir, but his L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz) and his other crime books and essays.

Reviewed by Marta Chausée, December 2011.

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