Monday, September 3, 2007

American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis)

"My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard)."

American Psycho on Amazon

Patrick Bateman is a yuppie who works precious few hours on Wall Street, spending most of his time on alcohol, coke, consumerism, sex, and brutal murders. Bret Easton Ellis' novel is a narcissistic first-person account of a life of name brands and expensive restaurants, mixed with psychotic episodes of violence.

I don't know enough about the whole name-brand-dropping tradition in contemporary fiction to know whether Ellis invented it, but he certainly does it like it's about to... well, go out of style. In a totally deadpan tone, he describes the rat race of the Wall Street lifestyle, the competition for authority on everything from fashion to bottled water (aka "hardbodies"), the inability to think of anything except in terms of how it will look to others. Despite the whole serial-killer thing, Bateman will remind you of some of the i-bankers you know.

Plus, there's all the sex and violence. It's totally over-the-top, sometimes random -- Bateman will be in the middle of a discussion of some innocuous subject and suddenly switch to graphic plans to kill the person he's talking to. There's also a lot of humor, mostly, as stated, deadpan, but still quite funny. And then at the end Bateman sort of comes face-to-face with his total lack of humanity. (See the above quote, which amuses me partly because I also blame my time at Harvard for curing me of my adolescent hopefulness.)

In any case, I found the book exhilarating and absorbing. Sometimes the murders were too gruesome for me, but the writing was excellent, not only as satire but as an inventive, gripping story.

In Summary: Not for the faint of heart, but if you can take (or skim) the violence, it's worth it for sheer delightful insanity.

10 comments:

Matt said...

I've been meaning to read American Psycho. After all, who doesn't like deadpan psychopathic homicidal humor? Nobody. With the possible exception of Jesus.

Trish said...

I love Christian Bale (I've been trying to convince hubby to see 3:10 to Yuma in a way that makes it sound like *his* choice so I can then drag him to a sappier flick as well), but even this movie was a little too much for me (near the end). I've been interested in the book, but haven't found the guts to pick it up yet. Of course, I've read some pretty gruesome stuff in Palahniuk.

Kristen said...

Matt - You should check it out. Based on the wicked sense of humor I've seen at the Spoon, I think/hope you will enjoy it.

Trish - I read Fight Club, and it was pretty violent, but nowhere near the kind of horrifying detail in American Psycho. I hear the movie didn't even get to all the good stuff (um, if that's what we want to call it), but I'm still scared to see it. Christian Bale is yummy, but I'll stick to watching him in Laurel Canyon or something! :)

Matt said...

Hehe, thanks kristen. Now if only I weren't moving I'd be loading up on more books. Shoot, I AM still loading up on books. This isn't going to be easy.

Fletch said...

I ought to read this as well.

I like the movie a lot, but hate the pointlessly ambiguous ending. I don't mind a mind-f*ck every now and then, but it shouldn't kill the flick. I'm sure the book ends better...right?

Kristen said...

We-ell... the ending was a big mindfuck, but I found it pretty satisfying. Maybe because a novel can do so much more with consciousness. Of course, I still haven't see the movie myself, so I can't or at least shouldn't compare.

machinegunbetty said...

You do know this book is using a serial killer/rapist to describe how the World Powers have controlled and "raped" the rest of the world right? Every sentence in the book is actuall saying something else...maybe if you would have read the book you would know that...

Kristen said...

machinegunbetty - I admit, I read this on a somewhat personal and therefore what many people would term a "superficial" level, but I did think carefully about it while I was reading it. I thought rather about the significance of rape itself and what it means in terms of the women in Patrick Bateman's world than about the ways in which rape can be used as a political allegory.

I am quite willing to believe that had I read this in an English class, the professor might have pointed or pushed me towards a similar claim to yours. Sounds like you're presenting this as commonly accepted wisdom, and maybe next time I read this I'll probably read up on the matter beforehand to prep myself. However, I think this book is complex enough to be treated as more than an extended metaphor, and that, in particular, rape is a concept too fraught for many readers, myself included, to confront it on a merely academic, metaphorical level.

Going to Harvard has made me well-acquainted with the assumption that only one reading of a text is legitimate, and that anyone who doesn't go with that reading is probably borderline illiterate. I find that sort of academic arrogance somewhat tiresome, but I am always, still, tempted to engage with it. I do welcome your further comments, if you ever come back to read my response to your flame. ;)

Mr. B said...

I understand that this is two years too late, but in your post, the passage "fashion to bottled water (aka 'hardbodies')" is perplexing me. Because you plug Harvard and your association therewith, I assume you to be an erudite individual, yet I can interpret that passage in only one way: bottled water is a.lso k.nown a.s "hardbodies" in the text. But "hardbodies" is a term Bateman applies to every anonymous, attractive woman he encounters. You didn't actually read the novel thinking bottled water served Bateman and his associates at various posh restaurants around Manhattan. Did you? What did you mean?

As to machinegunbetty's comment, I have to say that I'm again perplexed. Having read the book a modest handful of times, I don't buy machinegunbetty's analysis, and I don't much care if Ellis himself insists that such was his allegorical intent. I see far more social satire than political allegory in this novel. And for gods' sake, one shouldn't talk down to folks and then botch spelling, "Every sentence in the book is actuall (sic.) saying something else..." It would also help if the condescension weren't an asinine oversimplification/exaggeration/misinterpretation of various approaches in critical theory.

I digress.

Kristen said...

Hi Mr. B,

Yes, it is two years later, but since I am alive and amused by your response, not "too" late. No, I did not think that bottled water was referred to as hardbodies, although I was tempted to respond as if I had, because anyone who thought that water bottles were walking around as characters in this book would have to have a fascinating, awesome and hilarious mind. I don't have my original draft, but I assume that I just deleted a phrase by accident and forgot to proofread. I also assume that you knew that, because the internet is full of people like me who spout off without checking their grammar. But I hear "and you went to Harvard!" every time I do something stupid. And I appreciate that you chose to talk down to me with impeccable spelling and a wide vocabulary.

As for machinegunbetty... may she someday discover the value and pleasure of expanding past one rigid reading for each text.