Sunday, August 7, 2011

Review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Title: American Psycho
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 416
Rating: 3/5 Stars

Another book I don't know what to rate. Some sections of the book are so depraved they tap-danced on even my threshold of decency. Anybody who knows me understands how big a deal that is. Most of it, however, was absurdly hilarious and psychologically disturbing just as I expected.

I approached American Psycho thinking "god, I really hope I get this book." And then as I read it "I think I get it this book." Now that I've finished, I do think I "got it." Honestly, I think I try too hard sometimes to get books that others have heeped meanings upon, but that's a conversation for another day.

So, American Psyhco. Not for the faint of heart or easily offended. Our 'hero' as it were, is quite literally a psychotic asshole. Patrick Bateman is racist, sexist, agist, greedy, gluttonous, shallow, arrogant,and sadistic. He teases bums on the street, orders them to 'get a job' and then drops hundreds of dollars a night on dinners, drinks and drugs. He consistently cheats on his longtime girlfriend with other women, although Evelyn's so incredibly vapid and self-centered it takes a collossal slip up on Patrick's part for her to even consider the idea that he's been unfaithful. He spends more time at the gym than in the office and as he so exactly put it to a lunch date that he later tortured and murdered he ""

That compulsive need to fit in is the whole point and the amazing thing to me is that even though Patrick is a reprehensible human being, Ellis manages to infuse him with this yearning for the ever illusive something meaningful that you almost feel sorry for him in his inabilty to connect, to feel. As a reader I didn't forgive him for what he did, but I had no trouble understanding what drove him. Patrick's tragedy is that to him, there's only one way of life - the Wall Street way, the way of excess - and not only is he unable to recognize this, he is incapable of considering there's anything else. So he exists in a state of depression and homicidal rage which, fueled by drugs and alcohol, has only one logical conclusion. The hilariously and sad absurdity of it all is that Patrick is barely trying to hide his true nature. He's just surrounded by so many equally shallow and self-centered people that no one notices.

The excess of the 80s is on full display here and our narrator's earnest, detailed descriptions of his morning hygiene routine, his gym workout, meals he orders at restaurants, the decorating in every house he enters and especially what he and his companions in a given chapter are wearing is endlessly amusing. Everything is designer and everything is expensive. In fact, if it doesn't cost enough, Patrick and his fellow Wall Streeters aren't interested. What's new and hip is discussed excessively and the ability to get a reservation at Dorsia's - the #1 hot spot - is an ongoing cause of distress. My favorite chapters were actually the ones that felt like they were ripped right out of Rolling Stone as Patrick waxed poetic about the superb talents of Genesis, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and the News. Drum machines, sax solos, soaring, overwrought ballads - things that are so uniquely and detrimentally identified with 80s music - are highly praised in a way that twenty years later endlessly amused me.

If the word 'scathing' wasn't used to describe Ellis's work, it should be. It's the best adjective I can come up with to summerize what I got out of American Psycho. It is a scathing look at the heart of the 80s yuppie world, Wall Street, and how soulless the mindless lust for wealth and material possessions often is, what it turns people into when they don't know why.

Upon reading some of the other reviews I realized I glossed over the violence, although this was not done on purpose. I'm not going to go into detail on it because there are plenty of other reviews that do - often to exhausting extremes. Bottom line: the descriptions of violence against human beings in this book are incredibly graphic and sadisticly imaginative. For some they completely overshadow anything else the book is trying to say. In my opinion, that is a reflection upon the reader, not Mr. Ellis. Far too many readers want to pin their personal reactions upon him, blame him for writing something that is too this or too that. So, take that as a warning and read at your own risk.

1 comment:

  1. I think you have managed to present a very balanced picture of American Psycho. My initial reaction on finishing the book was pretty scathing towards it and disgusted, despite it being very difficult to shock me too. thanks for the review, made me think again.Ceri