Book Briefly Noted, Title The Big Nowhere, Author James Ellroy, Rating 2.0, Nightmares in L.A.
The Big Nowhere
I decided to read one of James Ellroy's gritty L.A. noir detective novels. His Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential were both made into films, the latter a very good one. Unfortunately, The Big Nowhere turned out to be not just gritty, but pornographically cruel and soulless.
Having recently moved to Los Angeles, I have found reading L.A. detective fiction a pleasure, not only because Chandler and Connelly et. al. write well, but because their novels provide some cultural background about the city. These novels also provide stimulus to learn about the various locales in my recently adopted home.
The novel did provide a real sense of L.A. of its time, but every character without exception was not just morally compromised and flawed, as found in good noir novels, but utterly amoral; without some balance, the ultra-violent activities created more nightmares than interest.
I read it for about 150 pages, had very bad dreams that night, and checked it back into the library the following morning. I felt like the Steve Martin character C.D. Bales in the movie Roxanne, who, walking lazily down the street, stopped and bought a newspaper from a street dispenser, continued walking down the street reading the paper, stopped and screamed in horror, sprinted back to the dispenser, payed again to put the newspaper back into the dispenser, then continued walking lazily down the street.
Connelly’s novels of L.A. detective Harry Bosch, which also have a certain amount of violence, are much better, as the characters are complex, a mix of good and bad, some of whom garner the reader’s sympathy. No more James Ellroy novels for me: All of Ellroy’s ability to describe a world or to write dialog is wasted because he chose to make that world solely nihilistic.