Monday, August 3, 2015

WHITE JAZZ by James Ellroy

* Book 4 of the L.A. Quartet *

Every time I've finished an Ellroy book, I've had to sit back and process everything, climb up out of
his world, shake my brain free of his expert grasp. With White Jazz, he concludes his epic "L.A. Quartet," by narrowing his focus even more so than in The Black Dahlia, and miles away from the gargantuan L.A. Confidential. Returning to first-person narration and a single protagonist, Ellroy presents a portrait of racist and corrupt police lieutenant Dave Klein, who finds himself a pawn in a law enforcement political war when a Federal attorney mounts an investigation into LAPD malfeasance and its involvement in Southland vice.

Klein is a fascinating character, because he's not some hero or your everyday good guy caught up in a conspiracy and must be the one to bring it all to light. Instead he's a full-time criminal/part-time cop who finds himself in over his head, involved with individuals and systems that are even more corrupt than he is, and must fight through the whole book just to keep his head above water. And it was cool to witness as some semblance of justice (maybe goodness) starts to seep in to his motivations, once he gets a little love in his life and is forced to confront his actions in the past.

Style-wise, Ellroy takes the trimmed and slashed prose style he adopted for L.A. Confidential (by cutting out unnecessary words to cut the manuscript down by 100 pages per his editor) and ratchets it up to a thousand here! Paired with yet another complex plot, the clipped style makes White Jazz a very challenging read, as it's hard at times to follow, as major plot developments and twists can occur in just several well-chosen words, and if you blink (or skim), you miss it. It's not a casual read. But once I got settled in and used to it, I was along for the ride. And I began to realize how much this jazzy, bebop prose fits the confessional, stream-of-consciousness style that's used in the book. It's Dave Klein truly telling his story in his own words. And at times, it can be really poetic in it's own way. Here's what Ellroy himself had to say about his choice to continue the use of this technique for Klein in a Paris Review interview:
"I saw that if I eliminated words from his speech, I would develop a more convincing cadence for him: paranoid, jagged, enervated..."

This book, it's content, and it's writing style, as with most of Ellroy's work, definitely won't be to  everyone's taste, and I would suggest that people new to Ellroy not start with this one (probably start with the more accessible Dahlia). For a taste of what's in store in the book, here's a portion of the novel where Klein searches police records for a possible suspect:
Keyed up—glom the pervert file. Dog stuff/B&E/Peeping Tom, see what jumped:
  A German Shepherd-fucking Marine. Doctor "Dog": popped for shooting his daughter up with beagle pus. Dog killers—none fit my man's specs. Dog fuckers, dog suckers, dog beaters, dog worshipers, a geek who chopped his wife while dressed up as Pluto. Panty sniffers, sink shitters, masturbators—lingerie jackoffs only. Faggot burglars, transvestite break-ins, "Rita Hayworth"–Gilda gown, dyed bush hair, caught blowing a chloroformed toddler. The right age—but a jocker cut his dick off, he killed himself, a full-drag San Quentin burial.Peepers: windows, skylights, roofs—the roof clowns a chink brother act. No watchdog choppers, the geeks read passive, caught holding their puds with a whimper. Darryl Wishnick, a cute MO: peep, break, enter, rape, watchdogs subdued by goofball-laced meat—too bad he kicked from syph in '56. One flash: peepers played passive, my guy killed badass canines.
Although the style is more challenging than the previous books, making for a less smooth a read as I wanted, this novel is still an incredibly engaging crime saga, and skillfully ties in the events in the earlier novels, bringing the entire Quartet to a close in satisfying fashion (Ellroy's most poignant ending since Dahlia)! Ellroy and his work continues to fascinate me and he just climbed even higher in the ranks of my favorite authors.
To eclipse my guilt with the sheer weight of his evil. I'm going to kill him in the name of our victims, find Glenda and say:
  Tell me anything.
  Tell me everything.
  Revoke our time apart.
  Love me fierce in danger.

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