One of the major mistakes people make is that they think manners are only the expression of happy ideas. There’s a whole range of behavior that can be expressed in a mannerly way. That’s what civilization is all about – doing it in a mannerly and not an antagonistic way. One of the places we went wrong was the naturalistic Rousseauean movement of 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.
-Miss Manners (Judith Martin)
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.