James Ellroy | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

James Ellroy 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Is James Ellroy the greatest white-knuckle-drunk writer since Eugene O'Neill? Is he a frightful braggart and a publicity whore of the first order? Didn't he revamp detective novels from tough guy whodunits into sprawling postwar dramas with real psychological immediacy? Do I dig him, and does he worry me? Yes to all the above. Ellroy's sleazy and sad life story as a dope fiend and pervert is familiar to anyone who read his riveting 1996 memoir, My Dark Places, but he includes a couple of autobiographical essays in his latest collection, Destination: Morgue!, as nasty reminders, and their titles--"My Life as a Creep" and "Where I Get My Weird Shit"--pretty much tell it all. He throws in some true-crime reportage (including a take on the Robert Blake case), a piece on boxing, and a three-part novella set in contemporary LA, but Ellroy's obsessions with sex, violence, and more sex start to choke him here, and the book becomes one story--his--told over and over. The rapidly delivered vintage idiom he used to spectacular effect in White Jazz (1992) seems musty and rather desperate when used to describe today's world of hip-hop, Fox News, and Starbucks. But Destination: Morgue! probably wasn't meant to be more than a sop to fans waiting for the next installment of his "Underworld U.S.A." series (American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand are out so far), and this is still a novelist who on Late Night With Conan O'Brien shocked hard-bitten pros into nervous giggles--his reading should be a blast. Tue 10/12, 7:30 PM, Barbara's Bookstore, 1218 S. Halsted, 312-413-2665.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marion Ettlinger.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Patrick Daily

  • The Lives He's Leading

    The Lives He's Leading

    At 91, sci-fi master Frederik Pohl comes out with a dystopian new novel, All the Lives He Led
    • Apr 14, 2011
  • Local Lit

    Local Lit

    From authors with a Chicago connection: a backpacker thriller, taking license with Louisa May Alcott, and more
    • Apr 22, 2010
  • Wolcott Patient No. 2?

    To WNEP Theater: James Wolcott can't make it to your show.
    • Oct 22, 2008
  • More »

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
The Great Leap Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Upstairs Theatre
September 05
Performing Arts
Oslo Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place
September 10

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories