Being in L.A. at the moment, I read with interest this list at the Daily Beast titled The Five Best Novels on Hollywood. (Also, happy Oscar weekend! Turns out this is a big deal out here…) I like Day of the Locust and The Last Tycoon but I’m mezzo-mezzo on Play It As It Lays and The Player (admittedly it’s been a long time since I read either). The only one I haven’t read is Children of Light by Robert Stone. Anyway, I’d argue that two masterpieces are very, very missing from the list.
L.A. Confidential is the obvious missing one. Or, fuck it, just say the whole L.A. Quartet (which also includes, The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, and White Jazz). A masterpiece taken as a whole, and maybe taken as individual novels too. Certainly L.A. Confidential is. It’s one of my favorite modern novels. My feeling is that Ellroy creates a new & unique dialect that forces you to learn how to read it the same way Gaddis makes you learn how to read JR. Thing is, Ellroy also builds a ridiculously complex/riveting/lurid narrative. (Please understand I’m not slagging on Gaddis here. I love JR. But I’m not on the edge of my seat when I read it.) I re-read L.A. Confidential every few years. Further ramblings on it from a while back here.
The other novel which I’d put on that list above any of the ones currently there is, tragically, less obvious. I say tragically because it’s about as incredible as L.A. Confidential, but very few people know about it. The novel is Brand New Cherry Flavor by Todd Grimson. (Look closely at the cover and you’ll note the Ellroy blurb.) I read this last year and it fucking blew me away. I wrote about this one, too, at the time. It’s a horror novel, sort of, that seems to be a hybrid of Ellroy and Clive Barker, with some David Lynch thrown in. And yet it’s entirely unique. The book is soaked in L.A./Hollywood vibes and it also seems like a cartography of nightmares. The narrative drifts to Brazil and, if I remember, Paris, but mostly floats around L.A. and the surrounding desert, as zombies rape Hollywood players and surreal atrocities take place in secluded Hollywood Hills mansions. I can’t pimp this novel hard enough. It’s more of a Hollywood novel than L.A. Confidential, since it actually takes place in the movie business, so I feel like it should really be at the top of this list.