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The year was 1958. Jean Hilliker had divorced her fast-buck hustler husband and resurrected her maiden name. Her son, James, was ten years old. He hated and lusted after his mother and “summoned her dead.” She was murdered three months ...
The year was 1958. Jean Hilliker had divorced her fast-buck hustler husband and resurrected her maiden name. Her son, James, was ten years old. He hated and lusted after his mother and “summoned her dead.” She was murdered three months later.
The Hilliker Curse is a predator’s confession, a treatise on guilt and on the power of malediction, and above all, a cri de cœur. James Ellroy unsparingly describes his shattered childhood, his delinquent teens, his writing life, his love affairs and marriages, his nervous breakdown, and the beginning of a relationship with an extraordinary woman who may just be the long-sought Her.
A layered narrative of time and place, emotion and insight, sexuality and spiritual quest, The Hilliker Curse is a brilliant, soul-baring revelation of self. It is unlike any memoir you have ever read.
Noted crime writer Ellroy (Blood's a Rover, 2009, etc.) presents a sharp-tongued, acidic memoir of his life and loves.
The author's loose-living mother, Jean Hilliker, has figured deeply in his previous work—one need only readThe Black Dahlia (1987); his father less so, and Ellroy paints him memorably: "He had the bunco-artist gab and the grin...He dodged work and schemed like Sergeant Bilko and the "Kingfish" on Amos & Andy. The pastor at my church called him 'the world's laziest white man.' He had a sixteen-inch schlong. It dangled out of his shorts. All his friends talked about it. This is not a wacked-out children's reconstruction." That's a volatile combination sure to leave marks on a young boy's psyche, but it's the mother's curse—to say just what it is would steal some of Ellroy's thunder—that really does him in. The author's '50s is not that ofLeave It to Beaver—not with Dad and Mom setting the examples. By the time he was 13, Ellroy was chugging cheap wine, peeping into windows and reading deeply into warlock-haunted literature that "formally sanctioned me to lie still and conjure women." Ah, and the women he conjured. There's Susan, who swigged cough syrup and downed stolen pills with him ("we talked classical music shit endlessly"); Charlotte (who "thought I drank too much"); Helen ("I lacked her omnivorous view of the world in all its lively flux. She lacked my brutal will"; and...well, a lot of ands, remembered over half a century in this Nabokovian exercise in time travel, with confessions of vice and addiction and, mostly, half-truths told and believed. It's vintage Ellroy, full of bile and invective and utterly unsparing to anyone—including the author himself, who manages to let slip away most of the good things he finds and spends a few fortunes in the bargain, yet keeps on plugging.
A fervent portrait of the artist as a young screw-up—an old one, too, who writes like an avenging angel.
From the Hardcover edition.
The numbers don't matter. It's not a body count, a scratchpad list or a boast. Statistics obscure intent and meaning. My toll is therefore ambiguous. Girlfriends, wives, one-night stands, paid companions. Chaste early figures. A high-stat blitz later on. Quantity means shit in my case. Culminated contact means less than that. I was a watcher at the get-go. Visual access meant capture. The Curse incubated my narrative gift. My voyeur's eye pre-honed it. I lived a kiddie version of my twisted heroes thirty years hence.
We're looking. We're eyeball-arched and orbing in orbit. We're watching women. We want something enormous. My heroes don't know it yet. Their virginal creator has not a clue. We don't know that we're reading personae. We're looking so that we can stop looking. We crave the moral value of one woman. We'll know Her when we see Her. In the meantime, we'll look.
A document denotes my early fixation. It's dated 2/17/55. It predates The Curse by three years. It's a playground shot in Kodak black & white.
A jungle gym, two slides and a sandbox clutter the foreground. I'm standing alone, stage left. I'm lurchlike big and unkempt. My upheaval is evident. A stranger would mark me as a fucked-up child in everyday duress. I have beady eyes. They're fixed on four girls, huddled stage right. The photo is rife with objects and children in lighthearted movement. I'm coiled in pure study. My scrutiny is staggeringly intense. I'll re-read my mind from 55 years back.
These four girls bode as The Other. I'm a pious Lutheran boy. There can be only one. Is it her, her, her or Her?
I think my mother took the picture. A neutral parent would have cropped out the freako little boy. Jean Hilliker at 39: the pale skin and red hair, center- parted and tied back--my features and fierce eyes and a sure grace that I have never possessed.
The photo is a windowsill carving. I was still too young to roam unfettered and press my face up to the glass. My parents split the sheets later that year. Jean Hilliker got primary custody. She put my dad on skates and rolled him to a cheap pad a few blocks away. I snuck out for quick visits. High shrubs and drawn shades blocked my views en route. My mother told me that my father was spying on her. She sensed it. She said she saw smudge marks on her bedroom window. I read the divorce file years later. My father copped out to peeping. He said he peeped to indict my mother's indigenous moral sloth.
He saw her having sex with a man. It did not legally justify his presence at her window. Windows were beacons. I knew it in my crazed-child rush to The Curse. I entered houses through windows a decade hence. I never left smudge marks. My mother and father taught me that.
She had the stones. He had the bunco-artist gab and the grin. She always worked. He dodged work and schemed like Sergeant Bilko and the Kingfish on Amos 'n' Andy. The pastor at my church called him the "world's laziest white man." He had a sixteen-inch schlong. It dangled out of his shorts. All his friends talked about it. This is not a whacked-out child's reconstruction.
Jean Hilliker got bourbon-bombed and blasted the Brahms concertos. Armand Ellroy subscribed to scandal rags and skin magazines. I got two days a week with him. He let me stare out his front window and fuck with his binoculars. My ninth birthday arrived. My mother got me a new church suit. My dad asked me what I...
Posted June 9, 2011
No where near as good as 'My Dark Places', this book wanders self-indulgently around its title, trying to find some coherence. It doesn't have the bite of Ellroy's fiction or the raw power of internalised pain that made his earlier memoir so compelling. I found myself wondering how many more times he was going to blame his crappy relationships on his mother. It read like a book full of excuses: there was nothing new there and nothing that made me any more or less sympathetic than I felt after reading 'My Dark Places' which I thought magnificent. Even worse was the whiff of 'by rote' born-again bull at the end. I love Ellroy's non-fiction much more than his fiction but this is a retread that should have remained in draft form. He's always worth reading but where 'My Dark Places' howled, this whines.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 21, 2010
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