Thursday, September 17, 2009

More of James Ellroy's gentle humor

I'll let this example stand for all the laugh lines in The Cold Six Thousand because there are too many such lines to pack into one post, and I still have half the book left to read:
Littell coughed. "Bobby Kennedy will probably resign. The new AG might have plans for Vegas, and Mr. Hoover might not be able to curtail them. I'll try to do some favors for him, learn what I can and pass it along."

Sam said: "That cocksucker Bobby."

Moe said: "That bad fucking seed."

Santo said: "That cocksucker used us. He put his faggot brother in the White House at our expense. He fucked us like the pharaohs fucked Jesus."

Johnny said: "The Romans, Santo. The pharaohs fucked Joan of Arc."

Santo said: "Fuck Bobby
and Joan. They're both faggots."

Moe rolled his eyes. Fuck this goyishe shit.
At least one excellent movie has been made from an Ellroy novel, but it's hard to imagine this scene being played in a movie without seeming ridiculous. And that's one more reason for you to read the book.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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17 Comments:

Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

And I thought history teaching was poor in the UK! The use of language is different as you can order faggots here, it is a type of food.

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Oh, that's funny. Reminds me of a section in M.R. James' "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad":

"What!" said the Colonel, "do you mean to tell me you don't believe in second-sight, or ghosts, or anything of that kind?"

"In nothing whatever of that kind," returned Parkins firmly.

"Well," said the Colonel, "but it appears to men at that rate, sir, that you must be little better than a Sadducee."

Parkins was on the point of answering that, in his opinion, the Sadducees were the most sensible persons he had ever read of in the Old Testament.

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Dana King said...

A great example of Elmore Leonard's preferred source of humor, where something is funny even when the character doesn't mean to be; he's just that dumb. It's harder to do (well) than it looks.

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah, I'd only known the word could indicate a bundle of sticks in addition to the sense in which it's used here. I did not know until until I looked it up just now that Ellroy's sense, which is really the only one current in America, was in fact an Americanism and a relatively recent one: 1914 or '15. And that makes sense. I don't think one often hears that particular insult outside America or American books, TV shows or movies.

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, the rest of that last sentence is pretty good, too:

" ... but, feeling some doubt as to whether much mention of them was to be found in that work, he preferred laugh the accusation off."

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I can imagine dialogue like this or like Leonard's might seem seductively easy -- This is how real people talk, after all -- until one tries to write it.

I wrote in an earlier comment that Ellroy often deploys the most powerful figures in The Cold Six Thousand in such comic, even vaudeville- or Borscht Belt-like, sketches. A theorist might suggest something about his vision of evil as darkly comic, but the passages are so much funnier in practice than in theory.

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This scene may also remind readers of the "fact"-spouting regulars and their absurd arguments at the O.J. Bar and Grill in Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels.

September 17, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

I think you could make a case that all of Ellroy--or all I've read or heard about-- is comedy, though of the darkest kind.

Though the Wodehouse analogy in the last post is apt too.

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you could be a particularly astute reader of Ellroy, or I could be the last person surprised by his comedy. Most discussion of Ellroy that I know of is pretty lurid -- his mother's murder, his weird fetishes, the real trashy, tabloid stuff, with the additional aura of a personality cult. Ellroy's own take on his recent work, on the other hand, has seemed hyper-serious: He says he no longer writes crime, but rather social history. Neither approach prepared me for the comedy of The Cold Six Thousand, or for the comic means he uses to achieve his serious ends. If the situation is right, I might ask him about Wodehouse, Westlake and so on next week.

September 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Peter!

I realize I'm taking this thread down a slight detour, but I just wanted to thank you again for being on our radio program. I was listening back through our recent archives, as I often do, and I ran into your appearance on the show and gave it another spin. It was rich, mysterious and fun, just like I remembered it.

I especially enjoyed our talk before the program, attempting to take a large, ambient-obsessed medium and turn it to audio was an entertaining challenge and I hope the music, sound and atmosphere pulled it off with a sly wink and smile.

More than a month later, we are still getting visits from your site, for which I thank you. You have a terrific, colorful website with a wonderful community supporting it. It's clear there's a lot of Serious noir love here, but never too much as to take itself all too seriously, if that makes sense.

At any rate, I hope we did the subject some justice, welcoming everyone in while uncovering some gems for the enthusiasts. It was, and still is, a hoot to listen to.

Best wishes (and my deepest sympathies to the piano player...) ;)

Joe Hardtke
Technical Director and Producer
Here on Earth
Wisconsin Public Radio
www.hereonearth.org

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for your kind and gracious words. I always enjoy meandering, tangled threads. And thanks for the production wizardry. I enjoyed the surprising, atmospheric clips you came up with.

Serious noir love that does not take itself too seriously makes all the sense in the world. It's probably no accident that I am always attracted to humor in serious crime stories. Now, there's an idea for another program ...

(Curious about the program Joe writes about? Have a listen here.)

September 17, 2009  
Blogger Dana King said...

A question I'd love to ask Ellroy sometime (if I wasn't afraid he'd kick the snot out of me for asking it) is if the humorous situation he subjects real people to are his way of satirizing the same complex conspiracy theories he builds his story around. TC6K is a good example. It's a confoundingly complicated conspiracy on many levels, run and executed by people who are, in many ways, buffoons. Evil buffoons, to be sure, but certainly not master criminals.

September 18, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

That's a very nice complimant from the radio interview people.

I'll be quite interested to hear what comes of the Ellroy appearance.

September 18, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, you ask Ellroy your question, and when he comes tearing after you, I'll distract him by asking if he likes P.G. Wodehouse.

September 18, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that comment was indeed an especially pleasant surprise.

I'll try to expect an author of skill and intelligence rather than a self-dramatizing wild man when Ellroy appears. I did read a piece of writing by him in which he lacerates himself for exploiting his mother's murder, so we'll see what happens.

September 18, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

Well, he could be both, I suppose.

September 19, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He could be both, and I expect he will play to the crowd somewhat. I just hope that the showmanship doesn't elbow the other stuff aside. I'm always a bit wary of personality cults, and I think the media have built one around Ellroy. To what degree he has been complicit in this, I don't know.

September 19, 2009  

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