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James Ellroy

My Pursuit of Women

A-The Hilliker CurseJames Ellroy is one of America's most successful crime fiction writers--L.A. Confidential (1990), The Black Dahlia (1987)--and the author of the Underworld USA Trilogy (the third installment is Blood's a Rover, 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2010). This is his second memoir.

The Topic: In his memoir My Dark Places (1996), James Ellroy describes his attempts to solve the real-life mystery of his mother's murder, who died in 1958, when he was only 10. The Hilliker Curse, titled after his mother's maiden name, tells the story of a different kind of search for the same woman. Ellroy explains how he has stalked and obsessed over women who look like his mother since her demise. He has also hidden a deep self-loathing because he angrily wished her dead not long before she was killed. After two marriages and countless affairs, Ellroy feels he has finally found the right woman; in The Hilliker Curse, he explains how he found her.
Knopf. 224 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780307593504

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is a show, all right, there is no question about that. ... But 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." Andrew Klavan

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"Ellroy often omits connecting words, uses short, staccato sentences, and his lean, bleak prose was once described as ‘so hard-boiled it burns the pot.' He also skips back and forth in his story so often it's hard to follow. ... [But Ellroy fans] may in fact discover a lot they didn't know about the author of perhaps the most confessional memoir I've ever read." Elizabeth Bennett

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"The author does decline to dish on his long-term partners--a gallant trait, albeit one that makes for some dull passages. But his description of a mental breakdown he suffered while promoting 2001's The Cold Six Thousand is as fascinating as it is at times utterly disturbing." Clark Collis

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"[T]ry as he might to exalt it, Ellroy's desire, when not predatory, often seems merely pitiable. ... Nonetheless, it's impossible not to sympathize with the little boy abandoned who lives within Ellroy, longing for redemption and release." Alexandra Jacobs

Onion AV Club 3 of 5 Stars
"Ellroy is a remarkable storyteller, and Hilliker offers an abundance of his unmistakable gristle-and-bone prose style, but they don't always serve a coherent narrative. As muscular philosophizing, however, it's pretty compelling, peppered with Ellroy's high-romantic ideas about fate, God, and love." Kevin Phipps

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Always a scrupulous observer of human behavior, Ellroy ... is never so unforgiving as when brooding over his own misdeeds and regrets. ... Because Ellroy is a provocateur of the highest order, it's tough to tell how much of his folderol is pure persona or genuine conviction--but either way, it fails to charm." Camela Ciuraru

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"As a writer, Ellroy is never less than entertaining, even when his manic side is at its most grating. ... The standards for a novelist making material of their lives simply are different from those for a memoirist, and there's no clear sign here that the author respects the difference--or anything, for that matter, but his own needs and impulse." Timothy Rutten

Guardian (UK) 0.5 of 5 Stars
"I can't remember when I was last so bored, exhausted and annoyed by the supposedly honest outpourings of a fellow human being. ... The show-off prose leaves no room for insight or self-revelation or--crucially--the smallest touch of vulnerability." Julie Myerson

Critical Summary

There are plenty of things to love about James Ellroy's mysteries--from intriguing yet morally questionable characters to the particular staccato character of his prose. Both are present in The Hilliker Curse, but critics were much less impressed with this memoir than with his fiction. Most felt his prose style confusing, particularly in cases where clarity would seem required. They also had trouble sympathizing with Ellroy's predations, even when he presented a reasonable explanation for his behavior. While many found in his story something to pity, that didn't mean they liked the book. However, Ellroy's most devoted fans may appreciate this added insight into the author's psyche. The rest can move on.