James Ellroy is the most interesting writer living. I also think he is the best living American novelist.
I'll let that soak in and offend those who will be quick to point to other names.
There are others that write more important books. There are others who are better stylists (though very few). There are even those who plot better page-turners than James Ellroy (though his triple narrative device is as clever as it can get).
There just isn't anyone else who does it all as well as he does.
My belief is based off of a series of measures. James Ellroy is a kooky, paranoid conservative who is best known as a writer of genre fiction. While "crime fiction" has always produced great writers few of them have been considered the best in their country or world. Leonardo Sciascia of Sicily is perhaps the exception.
The measures though... James Ellroy is above all a stylist, whose obsession with language calls to mind names like Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway and to a lesser extend Andre Malraux. Men who wrote "straight" stories wrestling with cultural and societal themes as diverse as death, cultural disconnects and the relevance of the masculine in society. Like these writers Ellroy achieves innovation in style through parred down terse prose that above all is not fearful of indulgence.
Unlike other terse prose practitioners James Ellroy is willing to include whimsical asides, whether through hipster musings or the specialized cant of the CIA in the 1960's. All weighed, he spends more time thinking about individual words than many writers spend on entire paragraphs. I know I can't support that claim. I just feel its the case.
That's the other thing to measure too. The total lack of political correctness. Though beneath the surface there is a definite political conservatism to his writing, and he has called himself the "White Knight of the far right" he is fair in his political dealings. He hands people their asses no matter the politics at work. If the person was a fake or a criminal then they're a fake or a criminal. No matter the affiliations. If the person was a racist then the language they speak will be riddled with base derogatives. He pulls no punches. The language is as it would be no matter the potential offense.
Then there is the fact that the man is a very literate writer. I mean, on Tuesday potentially his highest octane novel is being released with a title derived from an A.E. Housman poem. Dig?
Basically James Ellroy performs at a high level on so many fronts. He writes highly stylized works that both thrill and in the case of his USA Underground Trilogy (the final act of which drops on Tuesday of this week) he writes important, scarily exigent lessons for the naive political bystander.
He is a gifted stylist and a relevant writer who aims for the everyman as an audience. I might be a liberal minded person, but I also like good writing. Especially when it takes on the bigger demons in the world.
Again, here is the link to my review of the final book in the trilogy, Blood's A Rover.
There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."