Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Review: American Tabloid

American Tabloid American Tabloid by James Ellroy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fates of three men, Ward Littell, Kemper Boyd, and Pete Bondurant, are forever entwined in the era of mobsters, Fidel Castro, and the Kennedys.

Yeah, that's not much of a teaser but there's no quick way to sum this one up.

American Tabloid takes key figures of the late 1950s and early 1960s and pisses all over them. Ellroy is back to the trinity of sin structure that worked so well in The Big Nowhere and LA Confidential. His three leads, Ward Littell, Kemper Boyd, and Pete Bondurant, rise and fall as they influence key historical events.

Politics makes strange bedfellows and Kemper Boyd is in bed with most of them. At various points of the book, he's linked with the FBI, CIA, the Kennedies, and probably other groups I can't remember at this moment. He's a wheeling-dealing son of a bitch. He was easily the most compelling of the three leads. Ward Littell started off as kind of a weakling and wound up being the biggest bad ass of the three. He also lost the most before winding up on top. Pete Bondurant struck me as the most pragmatic for most of the book and I'm hoping he'll be back for the sequel.

Ellroy doesn't pull any punches in this. The clipped sentence structure is in full effect, so much so that it's a little overwhelming at times. I still dug it. He also isn't afraid to cast aside the myth of the Kennedys being great men. JFK and RFK both come off as tools. J. Edgar Hoover is almost the Dudley Smith of the piece, a master strategist who never really takes the fall.

It was great how Littell, Boyd, and Bondurant were interwoven into the sagas of Jimmy Hoffa, Howard Hughes, and the Kennedys, linking all of them together into a tapestry of lies, drugs, and death. American Tabloid is just as bleak as the LA Quartet in its own way. While Ellroy's Hollywood is a cesspool, his political world is even worse, a shit and vomit-flecked abattoir where everyone is in bed with everyone else and no one can be trusted. By the end, I didn't think any of the three leads would survive to the second book.

American Tabloid was a dark and exhausting read. By the time I was done, I felt like Kemper Boyd had done a number on me with brass knuckles. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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