Salon recommends

James Ellroy's sleazy take on Kennedy-era politics, Don DeLillo's paranoid minor masterpiece and more.

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What we’re reading, what we’re liking

American Tabloid by James Ellroy
No one can match James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential,” “The Black Dahlia”) for tales of manic depravity. Because it’s (ostensibly) true, his memoir “My Dark Places” remains his all-time champion jaw-dropper, but I’m thoroughly enjoying “American Tabloid,” the book in which Ellroy turns his attention from the sleazy underworld of mid-century Los Angeles to the sleazy underworld of mid-century American politics. Needless to say, there’s plenty of crime, sadism and shameless mendacity in both. The Kennedys, J. Edgar Hoover and Howard Hughes all figure in this story of three guys navigating the complex interrelationships among big business, the FBI, the mob, the CIA and Castro’s Cuba. It’s pretty darn ugly, but compulsively readable nonetheless.

–Laura Miller

Mao II by Don DeLillo
This 1991 novel, written just before DeLillo’s massive “Underworld” and just after the equally celebrated “Libra,” seems a bit like a warm-up exercise. Sometimes, though, those little books sandwiched in between the epics are the most perfect, and so it is with Mao II. The plot is kind of an afterthought, but who reads DeLillo for plot anyway? It’s the games he plays with you as you read. “Mao II” is about a reclusive writer coming out of hiding, and it has a blurb from Thomas Pynchon stamped on the back cover. The book’s central theme is masterful — that terrorists have a firmer grasp on the collective modern consciousness than writers do. And, of course, there are those indelible trademark DeLillo images — like the drunken honeymoon party atop a tank in Beirut circa 1985 — to punctuate it all.

–Anthony York

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