Review: Ellroy, “Brown’s Requiem”

browns requiem

James Ellroy, “Brown’s Requiem” (1981) –

I’ve already written pretty extensively on James Ellroy (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/06/a-red-with-an-fbi-badge). I think I was fair in my assessment of his major work — Underworld USA, the LA Quartet, and his autobiographical writings — but if I included his minor works the picture would probably be less flattering- he’s written a lot of confusing messes where his trollish qualities overwhelm his better aspects. Ellroy’s first novel, Brown’s Requiem, is pretty minor but you can see why people would’ve seen potential in him. He tries to do 80s Chandler and fails — he can’t do that kind of ironic distance — but you can see him exercising the instinctive knack for depicting power that would help make his major works so vivid. He grasps, better than any writer of this time that I’ve read, the relationship between small-scale personal domination — and he is, to put it politely, uninhibited in his depictions of such dynamics — and the social structures in which the characters are embedded. His plots aren’t generally tight (who remembers crime fiction plots after they finish, anyway?) and his characterization runs hot and cold, but his worlds rival the best scifi masters for granular reality (generally the granular reality of terror). There’s glimmers of it in Brown’s Requiem but it isn’t there yet. He was presumably trying to find his voice as a writer- among other things, his protagonist is clearly one of his wish-fulfillment characters: strong, strapping, self-contained, cultured. Whereas his villain is closer to the person he actually was: creepy, obsessive, hateful, weird-looking… and, amusingly, a golf caddy, as Ellroy was before his writing career took off. ***

Review: Ellroy, “Brown’s Requiem”

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