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The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women Paperback – 2 Jun 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (2 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099537850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099537854
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 563,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. He is the author of the acclaimed LA Quartet, The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz, as well as the Underworld USA trilogy: American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and Blood's a Rover. He is the author of one work of non-fiction, The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women.

Product Description


"A remarkable memoir ... Hugely enjoyable" (The Economist)

"We turn the pages gripped with a rubbernecker's fascination ... It is ugly, beautiful, reprehensible and moving. In other words, a hard book to forget" (Irish Times)

"High-octane ... A breathless piece of writing ... When it comes to pinning down the most startling possible word collision, Ellroy's acrobatic pizzazz is beyond doubt ... This is literary knife-throwing at its most exhilarating and dangerous" (Julie Myerson Guardian)

"A painfully honest book, written in Ellroy's usual blunt, breathless but often starkly beautiful prose ... a marvellous read, sly, self-mocking and filled with troubling insight" (Time Out)

"James Ellroy's crime novels have been much acclaimed for their dark plots, tough prose and generally bleak view of the world. Now that he's brought those same qualities to bear on a history of his relationships with women, the result, inevitably, is not for the faint-hearted ... Ellroy writes with such swagger and certainty that it's hard not to be swept along. He also - let's face it - has quite a tale to tell" (Daily Mail)

Book Description

A raw, explicit memoir as high-intensity and riveting as any of Ellroy's novels. The theme: the author's obsessive pursuit of women.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Adam Eterno on 8 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback
He's crazy, of course - we all know that, because he revels in telling us why - but I doubt there's another author on the planet who can write with Ellroy's intensity.

Even a starry-eyed Ellrovian like me can see the flaws in this account of Ellroy's long history of fraught relationships with women. It's sometimes pretentious, often frustrating, and more than a little self-indulgent. There are some self-justifying passages, and a lot more self-lacerating ones, which I found impossible to read without a twinge of voyeuristic guilt. But a great stylist is at work here, so there's often real power in the writing. The prose is pyrotechnic: freed from the constraints of crime fiction (which he writes in a ruthlessly stripped-down way), Ellroy conjures up strange metaphors and alliterates gleefully; at other times he just gets straight to the point with one crackling line ('Every acknowledgement of my flowering heart gut-shot me with gratitude').

There are superb setpieces. Ellroy describes being left to wait in the street, aged ten, while his father was with a woman: in the hour that he was alone, he managed to get drunk, and started his career as a window-peeper. As a young man, he spent his evenings either hanging around the stage door of the LA Philharmonic, where he tried to get the attention of lady cellists, or cruising for prostitutes on Sunset Strip. Years later, he had a breakdown on the book tour to promote The Cold Six Thousand: at manic speed, he describes cracking up on planes and in blacked-out hotel rooms, frantically checking his skin for cancer and his eyes for signs of impending blindness ('My bowels swelled. I defecated and became convinced that I had colon cancer. The stewardess knocked again... I tremble-walked out of the john.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a real treat. It manages to be both moving and hilarious. Ellroy is on top form, strung out on love obsessions with various women both real and imagined. His fantasy life is as vivid as his real life-perhaps this is the essence of his genius. Highly recommended.
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Incredible read. I love the fast pace and couldn't put it down.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Varifocal on 30 Sept. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The thing about writing in the style of egotistical rant is that you need care little for literary convention. Of course, sometimes this can be groundbreakingly experimental and done with memorable effect, or it can be an excuse for writerly laziness. I found this memoir to be an exhaustingly repetitive self-indulgence, which said very little. Lust, marriage and even love were all recognizable, as was psychotic obsession and mental collapse, but so what? There was nothing here that made me see the world differently or delighted me with its ingenuity or perception. The only thing I can say in its favour is that I felt a compulsion to finish it. Perhaps I was driven by a masochistic need to have confirmed that the book would subside to banal anti-climax and tedium.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Angst, Ecstasy and the Creative Process 15 Sept. 2010
By Richard B. Schwartz - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is the second memoir from James Ellroy and it is different from My Dark Places. That book is more historical and journalistic. The Hilliker Curse is, for lack of a better word, more spiritual. Where My Dark Places spoke of Ellroy's search (with the help of Bill Stoner) for his mother's killer, The Hilliker Curse speaks of Ellroy's search for the love of women. The first book was an investigation; this book is a quest. One is not better than the other (despite what Ellroy might say); they are simply different.

Ellroy's angry love relationship with his mother (who struck him when he elected to live with his father) is deep, troubled and obsessive. It displaces into his search for the love of other women and into the writing of novels to win their hearts and attention. Now that he has found peace, with his new relationship, he is able to see the arc of his life, the arc of his work and the arc of the psychosexual dimensions of his identity with greater clarity. In The Hilliker Curse he charts them.

The writing is urgent, honest and impassioned. He gives us names and he gives us details. He exposes the raw nerves, the personal pathologies and the rhythms of his life. The book is one of the very few examples of confessional, high-romantic but (as he puts it) tory autobiography.

The book is an essential one for Ellroy fans and scholars. It illuminates the dark places but also floods them with unexpected light. It is an exceptionally good read, for those with a taste for fevered autobiography. Most important, it speaks to something which is not in high favor these days, but should be--the nature of the creative process. Ellroy is at his most compelling and most obsessive when he writes. Using 300- and 400-page outlines he builds large and imposing narratives consisting of armies of characters whose actions converge on a tiny number of extremely important incidents. He is charting America by looking into its dark corners and he gets to those dark corners by way of his own dark places.

We hear enough about his mother to sketch in the background, very little about his first marriage, a great deal about his marriage to Helen Knode, a lot about his mismatched relationship with a Bay Area professor named Joan (whose transmuted analogue, Joan Klein, figures prominently in Blood's A Rover) and we learn more than I would have expected about his new relationship, with Erika Schickel, to whom the book is dedicated.

I suggest that diehard fans and scholars check out his hour-long interview with Erika that is available on the internet. She tries to deflect attention from their relationship and focus on his writing. At one point she refers to his relationship with Joan as his personal Bay of Pigs. He responds that if that was the case then his relationship with Erika was his personal fall of the Berlin wall. In that moment he was inadvertently summarizing it all: Ellroy as frightened, troubled boy, novelistic colossus, chronicler of America and desperate lover of women--all formed into a single, seamless, strange but fascinating whole.

Highly recommended.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A Second Whack At A Memoir 7 Oct. 2010
By G.I Gurdjieff - Published on
Format: Hardcover
At least ten years ago crime writer/novelist James Ellroy wrote MY DARK PLACES. It was a rather intriguing look at his mother's unsolved murder and the ripples that resonated throughout his life because of that loss. It covered his life which had fallen apart, a presumed redemption of sorts through writing, and the burning desire to find his mother's murderer. At that time it appeared that his life had finally turned around. As I recall, Ellroy was married for a second time and had relocated from Los Angeles (the city that made him) and was living in bucolic splendor in Kansas. Fast forward to now. Ellroy is divorced, in a new relationship that is presumably a keeper, and not in Kansas anymore.
THE HILLIKER CURSE revisits his life and peripherally skirts around his mother's murder again to reveal his abysmal track record with women, his unending search for 'her'(the ultimate muse/right woman), and his transition from career thief and druggie/drunk to well-known author.
My major problem with this book is the way it is written. Ellroy projects this
street hip personna through a first person account of his life which is peppered (or saturated) with Ellroy-isms. I'm going to describe his style as Sam Spade meets film noir. I found it interesting, but I suspect most readers except die-hard fans might find this an exercise in creative writing that is just plain irritating and distracting.
The other negative is that it becomes rapidly apparent that the narrative is going to drone on miserably re: Ellroy's problem with healthy relationships/personal intimacy. It seems sort of strange to devote an entire book to his problems with women that apparently stemmed from his lousy relationship with his mother. The really sad aspect to all of this is that in the end I really wasn't all that certain Ellroy had truly evolved and kicked this 'curse'. I suspect that reading Freud might be more informative.
The end shot is that while this book was somewhat interesting to me, I'm not sure it would be that interesting to most readers. As a writer, I generally think Ellroy is gifted and interesting and has a noirish charm. When it comes to writing about his own problems, I wish he wouldn't.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Psychological Study of Sorts 13 Sept. 2010
By D_shrink - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is another attempt by the author to exorcise the demons left by the tragic strangulation murder of his own mother in 1958 when he was only ten years of age. It is quite understandable how such a tragic occurrence could afflict a young mind, but it still remains a personalized account and we can't generalize how each of us individually would handle such an occurrence, nor should we hope to ever find out. In his earlier work My Dark Places he unsuccessfully attempted with aid of a retired police detective to solve his mother's murder. The title of this book derives from the fact that his mother's maiden name was HILLIKER. This book was an attempt to show how he tried to cure himself through various schemes as drug and alcohol abuse, paraphilias not limited to S & M,plus numerous visits to prostitutes and other one-night stands, in addition to writing books about his problem.

I think the book is okay, but certainly not up to his earlier works as L.A. Confidential or The Black Dahlia and which were later turned into movies. I simply liked his earlier works better, but for others who have not read them or who might be interested in a personalized account of clinical depression among other problems this just might be your cup of tea. It's not a literary masterpiece, but you still might like it, especially if you are a Ellroy aficionado.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
There is more than enough revealed in THE HILLIKER CURSE to cause upheaval in any psyche 15 Nov. 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
James Ellroy is known for his unusual yet appealing literary style, which is on full display in THE HILLIKER CURSE, his follow-up memoir to 1998's MY DARK PLACES. It is brutally honest and contains some of the best sentences I've ever read in my life (one in particular, in which Ellroy describes getting what he wants, should be on his tombstone; if he doesn't use it, I want it on mine) and some of the densest paragraphs you've ever wanted to stop reading. At times it's like watching someone walk into a brick wall --- you want to alert them, but something makes you stand quietly and keep looking. At other times, it is so painfully revelatory that it reveals the hidden history not only of the author but also of the reader.

A great deal of Ellroy's career concerns the death of his mother, Geneva (known as Jean) Hilliker. She was murdered by strangulation when Ellroy was just 10 years old, the victim of a crime that remains unsolved to this day. It is almost impossible to catalogue the multiple psychological traumas that a child of this age would experience as the result and in the aftermath of such an event. Ellroy discusses his efforts to obtain at least partial closure, including the hiring of a private investigator to re-open the case and determine the identity of the killer. He was unsuccessful in this regard. Similarly, his pursuit of women as significant others is darkly affected by his mother's death, as in many ways he seeks a surrogate maternal comfort that was denied to him early on.

Here is where the narration, difficult in its denseness, takes an uncomfortable turn. One sees Ellroy constantly in pursuit of women he cannot or should not have. He's attracted most strongly to females who seem to be his opposite in personality (those in relationships, for better or worse). Whether he is unsuccessful in initiating or maintaining the relationship, Ellroy blames himself, for reasons that the reader sees coming long before they occur, as if the movie reels in a theater have been shown out of order. And reading it can be excruciatingly painful. I recommended the book to a friend of mine, who seems caught up in destructive relationships. "You should read this," I said. He emailed me a three-word message a few days later: "So should you." And he was right. It's difficult to do so without wondering if perhaps Ellroy has scraped the mental dermis down to a level heretofore undisturbed, one that lays a new set of nerve endings painfully raw and exposed.

For all of Ellroy's honesty, however, there is one subject that seems to be given somewhat short shrift. His first marriage, he tells us, was to Mary from Akron, Ohio. He is uncharacteristically short on detail when it comes to the woman herself or the turmoil of the marriage. The subject is covered in less than two pages, the Ellroy equivalent of the dog that doesn't bark, and is all the more intriguing for it. Regardless, there is more than enough revealed in THE HILLIKER CURSE to cause upheaval in any psyche.

--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Down the rabbit hole of self-exploration 6 Feb. 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
James Ellroy is a terrible, horrible man. He was a drug addict, is a home wrecker, and is still a sex fiend. He is scum in penny loafers, wrapped up in a dress shirt, but I will give him credit, he can write. Mostly known for those crime novels and movies that ooze sex and betrayal, James Ellroy's second shot at doing a memoir, The Hilliker Curse is a story about Hers, Shes, and Them. Growing up in Los Angeles, California in the mid twentieth century, James escapes his crappy childhood and a defiled puberty to run into the arms of drugs and women. James shows how the 1960s free love mantra and experimental drug phase had an everlasting effect on his writing style and dame chasing philosophy. A good majority of the book is him defiling one place and moving to the next. He also proves that "nice guys finish last" as he steals women from boyfriends and husbands that seemed like honorable guys. James tells himself that "all's fair in love and war" as his search for the right gal turns into a crusade of self-annihilation. The crowning achievement of this book is the relationships and how his generation is trying to find a place in this society. These themes are extremely recognizable to any generation. James Ellroy succeeds in creating a memoir for himself and a doctrine for those reaching their golden years. It's never too late to find the one that was made for you.

*Originally published for San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review*
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