Thursday, September 9, 2010

Scenes from a literary marriage: James Ellroy, Helen Knode and THE HILLIKER CURSE.

I haven't read enough of the work of crime novelist auteur James Ellroy.  But I speedread through part of Ellroy's latest venture into autobiographic memoir THE HILLIKER CURSE. Unfortunately, it reminded me of a GQ/ESQUIRE article bloated into book form so Ellroy could make quick-and-easy cash waving around his "this is it, hepcats" public persona one more time.

The portion of HILLIKER (premise/hook: Ellroy's mother's mysterious violent death colors Ellroy's relations with women thereafter) I read covered the marriage of Ellroy to the LA WEEKLY film reviewer/liberal provocateur Helen Knode.  Knode, in her own way, has.had the same kind of grandstanding persona as Ellroy; her film reviews often positioned her as the scourge of mainstream Hollywood sexism, while occasional WEEKLY here's-my-life columns rhapsodized on subjects such as the young Helen enjoying carnal delights in bathtubs with Frenchmen.

So, Ellroy and Knode met, made love and married.  Knode found herself putting much of her writing career (one novel called THE TICKET OUT excepted) on hold while Ellroy zoomed to megafame with the film adaptation of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL plus the writing of AMERICAN TABLOID and THE COLD SIX THOUSAND (not to mention his original memoir re the death of his mother, the still-worth-reading MY DARK PLACES).  And the marriage which started out as a hipster-meets-Reaganite variation of Scott-and-Zelda ended up dissolving in an ANNIE HALL manner (with Ellroy closing himself off mentally--and ultimately physically--from Knode; HILLIKER exemplifies this distance by recounting Ellroy's in-the-mind infatuation with opera star Anne Sofie Von Otter).

There could have been a great DOUBLE FANTASY-esque book with alternating chapters written by both Ellroy and Knode examining a loving but competitive-and-ultimately-doomed marriage between two literary stars of varying wattage.

And it's regrettable, to put it mildly, that Ellroy couldn't have given Helen Knode a chance to tell her side of their story (and participate in the royalties as well).

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