I began reading this book around mid-December but given the chaotic nature of my life at the time, I found it nearly impossible to focus. Seeing as Ellroy’s American Tabloid is a novel that commands your attention, a wandering mind will do you no favors. So when things settled down, I picked it back up, determined to dive back into the world of mid-20th century America and read all about The Kennedys, the FBI/CIA, Jimmy Hoffa and the Communist Red Scare.
With American Tabloid, Ellroy is uncompromising in his presentation of US history – he lays it out, warts and all. While I enjoy crime fiction from this era, I’m not a connoisseur when it comes to the actual events that occurred surrounding JFK and his rise to power, so there were many instances when I had to seek out the answer to the question, “did this really happen?”
Man, saying that there’s a lot going on here would be an understatement. However, Ellroy attempts to boil the story down to three central characters: power-driven Kemper Boyd, a “retired” FBI agent tasked by director Hoover to infiltrate Robert and Jack Kennedy’s committee; Ward Littell, an FBI agent with an intense hatred for organized crime; and Pete Bondurant, a retired cop working as a cleaner of sorts for the reclusive Howard Hughes.
There’s little rest for Ellroy’s cast when they’re all playing the long con through major events in the early 1960s; keeping track of their movements was like watching one of those street grifters with the ball-cup shuffle. I found myself continuously re-reading chunks of texts and whole chapters as I tried to stay in the loop. I’m not sure if anyone else has had this issue but at times it became downright exhausting. Not a fun novel to read at night before bed when you’re falling asleep.
I’m big on Ellroy and his jackhammer-style prose, a method that inspired another author I enjoy in Don Winslow. Sometimes you want to read a story that hits you like a machine gun, you know? Short, punchy sentences that accentuate both the blunt violence as well as the hardness of his characters.
Despite often being listed as his defining work, in my opinion American Tabloid falls just short of my favorite of his novels, The Black Dahlia. That being said, I’ll keep exploring Ellroy’s back catalogue. I can’t wait to dig further into the underbelly of American history.