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American Tabloid By James Blroy Knopf, 576 pages, $25 Owner of Aunt Agatha's, a mystery & true crime book store As long as 1 can remembcr Baby Boomers have tyrannized the cultural landscape. Americans have been forced to endure a stale repetition of Boomer icons (Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jim Morrison) and Boomer cupations (scx, drugs and rock and roll - all O.K. for them but not for you). Part of this cultural myopia is a certain ahistoricism - the cvcnts of their wonder years are conceived of as uniquc, pumped up by hypcrs like Oliver Stone into mythic signifirance. Who would have thought that RobertMcNamara's tepid, belatcd misgivings about Vietnam would somchow becomc front page news? Part of this nonsense is the claim that the Kennedy assassination was some kind of watershcd cvent in American history, a sort of "loss of innocence," on par with that suffcred by Adam and Evc. As a true student of L.A., that very American city, James Ellroy knows bettcr. The greatest American novelists (Hawthorne, Mclville, Poe) have all known, as Ellroy says, that "we poppcd our cherry on the boat over. " How could there ever have been real innocence in a land founded by misfits and convicts, its greenbacks printed with the blood of Indians and slavcs. Since that primal assassination, doublé dcaling, illusion and murder have been business as usual here, and it's our groove as much as anything Chuck Bcrry ever laid down. Which brings me (finally) to Ellroy's wonderful ncw novel "American Tabloid." Makc no mistakc about it, Ellroy is quite simply a grcat American writer, and this book finds him in the prime of his powers. In typical Ellroy fashion, it bcgins with sevcral characters - Pete Bondurant, hard-guy killer; Kcmper Boyd, infiltrator chamelcon; and Ward Littell, bug-and-wire man - threads who are wovcn into an incrcasingly twistcd pattern, wrackcd on the loom of history un til they créate a fictional fabric so strong that the reader can actually forget how it's all going to come unravcled. Along the way there are major playcrs like Howard Hughes, who "always shot up by TV light"; Jimmy Hoffa, "hcaving and voodoo-cycd stuporous";J. Edgar Hoovcr; various Mafia bosses and toadics; RFK; and, of course, his equally doomcd brother, "Bill Clinton minus pervasive media scrutiny and a few rolls of flab ." Like most grcat writers, Ellroy is also a grcat stylist, and here hc perfects a spare, slang-pcppcred prose that zings ajid swings like the coolest lounge lizard that ever hung. Hc Uikes his own dark territory and obsessioiisandgraftsthcmonto diebody of history, takingashot at the hcad of a national fixation and making il indelibly his own. Anyway, 1 hope you get the idea tliat I di i nk this is agreat Ixxik, much bctter than wliatever sentimental andor flalulent "work" they've presented with the Pulitzcr latcly. It's not a tidy, open-and-shut mystcry, but asprawling pop-top Pandoras box that, once open, will continue to liaunt for some time.


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