I haven’t seen many authors in the flesh, but I have seen Brett Easton Ellis reading from his recent book Imperial Bedrooms. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to meet authors I admire and I suspect it would be quite pointless because you can’t really strike up a meaningful conversation and the kind of adoring fan attitude that people manage to put up on the spot must be quite tiresome for them. I know I get annoyed when I read interviews taken by journalists that can’t shake off this attitude, because nothing meaningful can come out of reservation-less adoration that is unable to challenge the subject of this adoration.
Anyway, I went to see Ellis taken there by a friend and without feeling any of the adoration that I have mentioned, because I hadn’t previously read any of his books. The passage he read involved a blow job and some blank eyed model as far as I remember and the crowd of “nice” people giggled like kids when the biology teacher casually mentions the word “penis” in class, the same reaction when Ellis talked about another supposedly real life blow job at the Frankfurt book fair. I left there quite unimpressed and definitely not interested in reading more from the new book, but also scolded by a friend for not being able to appreciate one of the greatest authors out there and with a lecture on why American Psycho is such a great book. So I promised to read it.
It’s strange to read a book after seeing the person responsible for it, I somehow couldn’t shake of the image of that guy in hoodie with a WASP nose thinking all this violence up and putting it down in the most gruesome detail, in his pajamas, safe in his lonely apartment somewhere. The construction of this novel is flawless; it’s a world in itself, the sick twisted world of the ugliest truths about human nature, civilization in general and a historical era in particular. It is probably one of the most powerful critiques of consumerist culture but, although I appreciated the consistency with which every character description involved an elaborate enumeration of all the brands they were wearing, I’ve started skipping over them after just a few pages. The same went for the ever more elaborate scenes of violence that I literally couldn’t stomach after a while, they made me feel disgusted with myself as if I were some kind of a silent witness and accomplice to all that. Although I was completely aware that the violence should function on a symbolic level, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that it was put down on paper with a gusto that somehow contradicts the very act of criticizing a culture that fetishizes it, by actually doing the same thing. There is some dark humor involved, but you never laugh quite whole heartedly, because the novel leaves no glimmer of hope, as the ending says there’s “no exit”. A while ago I was criticizing Colum McCann for being too pollyannaish, but the belief in the inherent goodness of human nature is probably the quality that makes his characters so endearing. Ellis is at the opposite pole of that, there’s nothing human about his characters in Psycho. They are islands, consuming automata, and there is no meaningful connection between them. The worst of it is they are replaceable and interchangeable, Patrick keeps being mistaken for other people throughout the novel and he keeps doing the same thing to other Wall Street guys.
John Updike said somewhere that American culture and literature is obsessed with youth and adolescence, it glorifies it, it is a culture that refuses to grow up, to accept inevitable defeat and decay with grace and see it as a natural process of becoming wiser, it denies the wisdom of the aged. And I see some of this in Ellis. This absolute “nay-saying” is so adolescent like despite it’s complexity and I cannot help but laugh at it imagining the author writing another dark portrayal of the human tragedy and the “pain” of existence and then relaxing with an episode of Glee.
His twitter rantings look uncannily like they’ve been written by Patrick Bateman himself.