During his career, Elkin published ten novels, two volumes of novellas, two books of short stories, a collection of essays, and one (unproduced) screenplay. Elkin's work revolves about American pop culture, which it portrays in innumerable darkly comic variations. Characters take full precedence over plot.
His language throughout is extravagant and exuberant, baroque and flowery, taking fantastic flight from his characters' endless patter. "He was like a jazz artist who would go off on riffs," said critic William Gass. In a review of George Mills, Ralph B. Sipper wrote, "Elkin's trademark is to tightrope his way from comedy to tragedy with hardly a slip."
About the influence of ethnicity on his work Elkin said he admired most "the writers who are stylists, Jewish or not. Bellow is a stylist, and he is Jewish. William Gass is a stylist, and he is not Jewish. What I go for in my work is language."