My Mother and the Dahlia

James Elroy in the Virginia Quarterly Review:

Ellroy_hillikerMotion pictures pervade the culture far more broadly and immediately than books. It’s a quick-march progression of advance publicity and saturation screen-time. My signature novel will now be a film in wide release. The film will possibly expedite book sales in career-unprecedented numbers. Because of the film, more people may read The Black Dahlia than have read all my other books to date. This affords me a narrative opportunity of stern moment. I will gratefully capitalize on it here. A personal story attends both novel and film. It inextricably links me to two women savaged eleven years apart. These women comprise the central myth of my life. I want to honor them both. I want this piece to redress imbalances in my previous writings about them. I want to close out their myth with an elegy. I want to grant them the peace of denied disclosure and never say another public word about them.

My mother’s name was Geneva Hilliker. She dropped the “Ellroy” when she renounced my father. I laud her repudiation and commend her desire to live without a male-surname appendage. She haunts me in deep and unfathomable ways. I often travel her life at a brisk or painstakingly slow mental speed. I start in rural Wisconsin and end on an access road in L.A. The in-between stops are often filled with conjecture. I lived with her for ten years. The passage of time marks my childhood memories suspect. I later granted her a rich dramatic status and further distorted my memory. I did not know her in life. I am determined to know her in death. Summaries of her forty-three years often provide insight. Brevity enhances my process of refraction.

More here.