The Early Sixties

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately in the fictional early sixties – through two different media – books and tv.  I hadn’t read any James Ellroy for quite a few years, but with the appearance of the last part of his Underworld U.S.A. trilogy I decided it was time to re-acquaint myself with his recent work.

The starting volume is American Tabloid, published in 1995, covering the time period from the late 1950s to Nov 22, 1963.  As the name of the trilogy implies, Ellroy is interested in the low-life, the secret history of the period.  This is obviously fiction, but he weaves in plenty of real-life characters, including the Kennedy brothers, J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, Jimmy Hoffa and many others.  Much of the story focuses on the clandestine efforts to unseat Fidel Castro, involving ties between the FBI, CIA, the Mob, Cuban exiles, and others.  Ellroy uses a stripped down style that keeps things moving right along, to the fateful day in Dallas.

Ellroy credits Don DeLillo’s Libra for a good amount of inspiration for the trilogy.  Here’s a part of a 1997 interview where he discusses it:

I wrote him a letter thanking him for writing his novel Libra, and I sent him a copy of American Tabloid when it was first published. American Tabloid was spawned by his novel which is a great book specifically about the Kennedy assassination. I read that book and got hooked on the Kennedy assassination. I had never been interested in it before.

I read a lot of Kennedy assassination theory books and so on and saw DeLillo had co-opted it all into the most plausible theories, the most interesting real life characters and perspectives. I saw that this book was so great that I could write a book about the Kennedy assassination. Then I began to see that I could write a book about, as I stated, the five years preceding it. So for attribution I give Don DeLillo every credit every chance I get.

Now I’m into the second volume, The Cold Six Thousand (dollars, that is), dealing with the years after Dallas to 1968, in the aftermath of the assassination and the beginnings of Vietnam.  It’s even more stripped down in style, to the point that it’s so choppy it’s almost hard to read.  Many paragraphs consist of about 5 sentences, each no more than 5 words long.  Per wikipedia, here’s what he said about it:

The style I developed for The Cold Six Thousand is a direct, shorter-rather-than-longer sentence style that’s declarative and ugly and right there, punching you in the nards. It was appropriate for that book, and that book only, because it’s the 1960s. It’s largely the story of reactionaries in America during that time, largely a novel of racism and thus the racial invective, and the overall bluntness and ugliness of the language.

Along with Ellroy, I’ve been catching up with season 3 of ‘Mad Men’ which happens to be set in 1963, and appears to be leading to a finale on the days just after Nov 22 as well.  I’ve been very impressed with a number of the episodes, which achieve a very nice touch with the characters that we’ve gotten to know – each seems to have a public side and a private side, and we see a little of each, where they mesh and where they collide.  If anything there are just too many interesting characters and not enough time to cover them all!  Tomorrow night the finale of the season is on AMC, and I look forward to it.

If you are a fan of the show but miss an episode, here’s the place to look for (very detailed) recaps – Television Without Pity on Mad Men.

update:  I enjoyed last night’s season 3 finale.  Directed with an especially dark tone it seemed to me, but it gives a certain upbeat spin to season 4.  It looks to me like a few characters may drift out of the show, which is probably a good thing in order to focus on the group above.

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  • oakhill193  On November 14, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    What’s with all the different heights?

  • Curt  On November 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    In that spot on the set there are a couple steps going up to the left, so they’re standing at different levels.

  • oakhill193  On November 22, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Hah! I like the fact you didn’t show the steps. Makes the picture more interesting.

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