Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho

If you’re a first time Bret Easton Ellis reader, this book will make you never want to read him again, probably, and that will be a shame. A little over 20 pages and the author knocks himself out with Bateman’s morning hygiene rituals. In painstaking detail, Ellis repeatedly stabs you with his hero’s self-aggrandizing habits of beautification. The self is of course essential to the book’s narrative which explains the oh so many I am sipping cocktail now and I pay for it using my Platinum Amex, etc. Everything happens within Bateman’s mind that it’s become impossible to recognize any other characters in the novel without going several pages back, puzzling over who that guy was who just spoke/snorted coke who was dating that girl wearing the Oscar dela Renta. The trivialities of the characters’ activities sometimes bog down the action of this otherwise consistently horrific thriller but some of the time, I don’t mind. The extensive cataloguing of all things posh and Amex-bought find their way in almost every other chapter, only briefly intercepted by Patrick Bateman’s wild imagination (?). Much as I adore the nasty people that populate much of Ellis’ books, they are true patience testers.

Should you read/reread American Psycho? Is it worth your time to go through it not just once but many times? Is there any justice to the self to read more than once this novel that one could swear in certain parts read unapologetically like a department store catalogue?

Patrick Bateman, who is most certainly at least 60% gay, goes on and on, sometimes at cloying lengths about grooming, neckties, calling cards, credit cards, Huey Lewis, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston albums, not to mention a variety of vaginal tortures, that one can be forgiven for thinking the author an actual sick human being.

No one comes running after Patrick after he’s committed his crimes, at least not in the serious, climactic, Dan Brown kind of way. What I initially got from it was that it is a great massacre story that’s so weird, it has to have a Whitney Houston album and discography review. It’s so brutal, so graphic and I imagine, so provocative to women and anyone who has ever thought highly of their genitals.

But to think of American Psycho as torture lit masquerading as torture porn is to be dismissive of its greatness. There’s not to many novels like it. What gives Patrick Bateman substance, or what deprives him of one depending on how you look at it, is that maybe none of what he described as murders actually happened. That Bateman is really just a guy in suit with fantasies of murder far colorful than most. But I’m not sure and I don’t care to know. But the idea that everything’s imagined is right there at the beginning when Ellis gives it away, quoting a Miss Manners,

One of the places we went wrong was the naturalistic Rousseauean movement in the sixties in which people said, “Why can’t you just say what’s on your mind?” In civilization there have to be some restraints. If we followed every impulse, we’d be killing one another.

Maybe I just like Bret Easton Ellis, there’s something about three-named authors, and though I might not finish this round, I’ll take what he comes up with next whoever may be in it.

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4 thoughts on “Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho

  1. “Everything happens within Bateman’s mind that it’s become impossible to recognize any other characters in the novel without going several pages back, puzzling over who that guy was who just spoke/snorted coke who was dating that girl wearing the Oscar dela Renta.”

    Maybe the point is that you’re not supposed to distinguish the characters from one another, eh? From what I can remember, most of the time, Bateman even mixes them up, either not remembering or not caring about it at all or most probably, even both. (Or maybe, I’m just lazy! Trying to get away with it by being crazy/deep. Heh.)

    Just as the entire book (specifically the murders) may just be Bateman’s imagination gone wild, the catalog-like rendering of all their accoutrements are also just that, illusions meant to convey the emptiness of everything; instead of character descriptions and personalities their outer garb and trappings stand in for what they really are, showing the power of imagination and suggestion only physical. The mundanity of these catalogs can lull one into thinking that the killings (may they be imaginary or not) are just about the ‘normal’ reactions to such vacuity but then that jolts you wide awake and then you realize that what’s crazy in the first place is all the surface glossing over of every single thing.

    “I’ll take what he comes up with next, even if everything’s just plucked out from imagination, which if you think about it, is more colorful, brutal and movie-like and therefore greater.”
    –> I like this but one question, isn’t imagination still grounded, one way or another, in reality so in the end you’re still entranced by reality only more ‘creatively’ depicted/curated? Just a thought.

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  2. Reading through this again, I realize how wrong I am indeed on so many things such as in thinking that this is supposed to be straightforward. I think I AM trying to be clever about it which I noticed has become a defense for coming up with these wrong perceptions on books and things. Because of course the guys aren’t supposed to be identified and there’s a reason for that, that they’re all so similar and unremarkable and Bateman/Ellis seems to want to point that out by mixing them up. But I could be right hehe.

    The mundanity of these catalogs can lull one into thinking that the killings (may they be imaginary or not) are just about the ‘normal’ reactions to such vacuity…

    -I wish I could appreciate this interpretation because I really couldn’t figure out how that relates to the graphicness of the murders because sometimes I can’t see past them and I can’t see how his wild imagination can also be the mind that talks about all those clothes, but I’m thinking he’s really psychotic like that and that he could both talk clothes and killing at the same time.

    “I’ll take what he comes up with next, even if everything’s just plucked out from imagination, which if you think about it, is more colorful, brutal and movie-like and therefore greater.”
    –> I like this but one question, isn’t imagination still grounded, one way or another, in reality so in the end you’re still entranced by reality only more ‘creatively’ depicted/curated? Just a thought.

    – I just thought that maybe it was a little trite to have things turn out to be things that only happen in his mind though as I recall this Miss Manners quote kind of gave it away although towards the end, Bateman monologues about how he’s not too different from other people, our experiences are probably the same, etc, and that based from that, he may be saying that all these are just imaginary and he’s saying that we’re also capable of thinking of lurid things we’d do had we been the type of people who always speak their mind. But you have a point. 🙂

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  3. There’s really nothing like it. It is the first Ellis book I’ve read, and I think, just rightly so. When all the financial crisis brouhaha was at the pinnacle of discussions, I just can’t help but be reminded of AmPsycho. It’s like an indictment of what the 80s was about, a kind of prophesy of the chaos to come. At best, it can be read as an allegory of these troubled times, and even our troubled fate as humanity, though in a weirder, deeper sense.

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  4. Yes, i think there’s nothing like it but i don’t think it was BEE’s intent to be socially relevant, etc. I think he just really lived that period and found a voice to poke fun or mock that period.

    At best, it can be read as an allegory of these troubled times, and even our troubled fate as humanity, though in a weirder, deeper sense.

    -nice. and he did this through the voice of a murderer/social commentarist, Bateman, maybe even unintentionally. 🙂

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