Review of "The Hilliker Curse," a memoir by James Ellroy

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Sunday, October 24, 2010


My Pursuit of Women

By James Ellroy

Knopf. 203 pp. $24.95

James Ellroy looms large in American crime fiction. The author of hard-boiled detective novels such as "L.A. Confidential" and "The Black Dahlia," he's a man of grim wit and bleak, staccato prose. Be thankful he's not your ex-boyfriend, though. When it comes to relationships, he's a bit of an over-sharer. In his memoir, "The Hilliker Curse," Ellroy details his lifelong obsession with women -- from his mother (whose maiden name was Hilliker), murdered when the author was 10 years old, to his various flings, flames and strolls down the aisle.

Ellroy's early dalliances are frequently humiliating for him, often grotesque. "My zits popped in the throes of my real and her feigned passion," he writes of a formative roll in the hay. "I was staggeringly uncool and required deep pore cleansing and dermabrasion." There are tales of X-ray goggles, home invasions and adultery.

But Ellroy remembers wanting more than just carnal satisfaction. He's a born romantic on a quest to find The One, the Red Goddess, a big-time, all-consuming love. It's an obsession that has fueled his literary career, propelling him from gutter-dwelling golf caddy to best-selling author. "I know that women I have summoned in dreams and mental snapshots will make their way to me," he writes. "Divine presence forms the core of my gift." He's not a total sleaze-bag, just a little self-absorbed.

-- Aaron Leitko

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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