In order to continue the streak of disillusioned-with-society’s-warped-expectations-of-happiness, surviving-as-a-criminal books of which I’ve accidentally seen the movie version before I read the book, I just finished book #34 of the year, and it happened to fall into this pattern. It was American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. It was horrifying and I really loved it.
This is the second Ellis book I’ve read – the first was Less Than Zero, for a class. I really liked Less Than Zero, mostly because of Ellis’ straightforward, minimalist writing style. Through scarce details and minor descriptions, he was able to tell a story full of revelations and meaning.
I felt like American Psycho was no different as far as the revelations and critical view of society goes, but rather than minimal detail, this novel was packed full of mind-numbing, excessive details. Every single character was described in detailed terms of the brands and styles of clothing that they were wearing. There were in-depth debates about reservations, restaurants, when exactly it’s appropriate to wear an argyle sweater vest, and the subtleties of the business card.
Entire chapters sometimes consisted of descriptions of a musician’s career, told in an almost robotic voice that lacked passion, feeling, and even genuine-seeming admiration for the music. This makes sense, as these descriptions were told in the voice of Patrick Bateman. What a creepy guy.
So Patrick Bateman is the American psycho who narrates the novel and serves as its namesake. He is an obsessive, detail-oriented (lol), well-groomed, narcissistic Wall Street “yuppie,” seemingly devoid of human feelings, who attempts to fill his own materialistic emptiness with random acts of violence that escalate as the novel goes on. The detail with which Bateman describes the outfits of those around him transfers to the details of these murders, which made a lot of passages difficult to read.
The whole novel is really hilarious, even with these gruesome murders (usually sexual in nature) thrown in. Bateman is often mistaken for someone else, a mistake he never corrects. He’s constantly filled with a “nameless dread,” something he usually blames on insignificant details, like the presence of a cook or a tiny crack in the wall.
It gets less and less funny as you realize that he’s completely losing his grip on reality, which demonstrates Ellis’ genius. By the end of the novel, you’re holding 400 pages of words, unsure if any of them actually happened or not. Ah, so good.
There was also this creepy way in which I could sometimes relate to Patrick Bateman. I’d never do any of the things he does to people, but he has these brief thoughts that are terrifyingly relatable, which made me almost as uncomfortable as the gory murder scenes.
It didn’t necessarily bother me that I had seen the movie before reading this book. Christian Bale was a great Patrick Bateman, a little too perfect-looking with just enough smarm. Plus, I don’t think any movie could take a character as far into insanity as Ellis was able to write, so reading it was a different experience, but picturing Bale as Bateman served as a good visual.
It was interesting to read about the reception of this novel when it first came out, too. Ellis apparently received 13 death threats, images of himself with his eyeballs gouged out, (a notable Bateman-tactic), etc. I feel like it’s important to move past the belief that authors only write what they know. It’s ridiculous to assume Ellis is a misogynistic murderer because a character he created happens to be.
Also, another unrelated funny thing that came to me, mostly because I just finished Trainspotting and it was in the same vein as American Psycho: I like to think that Sick Boy (from the former) would have gotten along with the characters in the latter if, in some alternate universe, he went to New York. Just a thought.
Anyway, after the previous two novels I think I’ve earned the right to grab something fluffy this time around, maybe try and restore my hope in humanity. ◊
And when he reaches out to touch my tie, I catch his hand before his fingers make it, telling him, ‘Your compliment was sufficient.'”
– page 108 (poor Luis)
“… there is an idea of Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.”
– page 376 – 377