I would write a review, but I have to go return some videotapes.
OK, I was gonna let the inside-joke above stand, but I guess I do feel like getting some thoughts down about America's Next Top Psycho
At this point I'm sure it bores everyone to dredge up the whole misogyny question again, but it still puzzles me that smart people who must certainly know not to confuse the character's perspective with the author's continue to pull the concern-troll card here. Like, it's perfectly valid if you think the satire in the book fails, or even if you think the violence is overwrought, but anyone who thinks this book is misogynistic must also believe that Mark Twain was racist for using the word "nigger" repeatedly in Huck Finn
. You can't and won't convince me that there's any meaningful difference.
Of course, what's unfortunate about the "does this book hate women" discourse is that it blocks discussion of the hundreds of pages of this book that do not contain violence towards women or men. One thing that surprised me (going in, as I did, with various preconceptions) was that Patrick Bateman is not really the cartoon character that Christian Bale portrayed in the movie. I mean, my memory of the film is dim, and I know that Bale was great in it, but on the page Bateman is a lot scarier because he's self-aware. You can't just dismiss him as an easily mockable artificial construct or a satirical avatar of Ellis's anti-yuppie vitriol, because you're living inside his head for 400 pages, and it's clear that he knows exactly what he is -- and, more disturbingly, he seems to be the only character in the book for whom this is true. I think that's the elephant in the room that people who talk about American Psycho
either don't understand or don't wanna face: Bateman, as monstrous as he is, is actually the hero of this story. He's the only one who speaks directly and listens to people, while everyone else is off in their own solipsistic haze; he's the only one who seems to have any interests beyond the rank materialism of snazzy clothes and trendy restaurants, it's just that those interests involve sadistic torture and murder; he's the only one with any apparent concerns about the world and his place in it. Given the utter voidlike vapidity of every single person in this novel, it's not unreasonable to say that Bateman is the only one with a soul. That
is the truly frightening thing about this book, moreso than any of the torture-porn scenes.
Personally, I prefer the tragic simplicity of Ellis's Less Than Zero
can be repetitive and, I think, inconsistent -- is the eloquent, charming Bateman of the first chapter's dinner party really the same guy as the Bateman who can't complete any basic social interaction without begging off to go return some videotapes? Maybe it's just his descent into total madness, but something about the evolution of the character felt improvisatory on Ellis's part. The other thing that's mostly missing here, which is why I think it's ultimately inferior to Less Than Zero
, is the subtly calibrated pathos that made the earlier novel such a knockout. Without resorting to speeches or explanations, Ellis expressed in Less Than Zero
a deep sadness that belied the narrator's affectless tone. In American Psycho
, there was really only one moment that felt like the kind of grace note I loved in the earlier book, and I'll paste it here: We had to leave the Hamptons because I would find myself standing over our bed in the hours before dawn, with an ice pick gripped in my fist, waiting for Evelyn to open her eyes.
That's the most beautiful sentence in either book, maybe the only truly beautiful sentence Ellis has ever written -- his strengths as a writer do not really include handsome prose. It's such a chilling image -- not a visceral horror like the infamous rat scene, but something that hits you right in the soul, something that, again, makes it impossible to domesticate Bateman by laughing at him. I wish there was more like it.
But in the absence of that, there is
plenty to laugh at; I loved the book's comic centerpiece, an all-night conference call between Bateman and a few of his buddies as they spend hours trying to figure out where to eat dinner. It's the kind of marathon absurdism I love, like Mr. Show's Story of Everest
bit, where you can't believe how long the joke is being dragged out, and eventually the dragging-out becomes
the joke, to the point that you get irritated, but then the joke laps your irritation and you find it hilarious again. Bateman's lone encounter with law enforcement (actually a P.I.) is played for laughs instead of suspense (a smart move given Ellis's total lack of interest in any kind of narrative momentum), in one of the weirdest and funniest of the dialogue scenes. And it never stops being funny when Bateman will straight-up admit, in plain English, that he is a mass murderer, and his conversation partner will not register his confession at all -- because Ellis's most abundantly clear point is that people in this culture did not (do not?) listen to each other, at all, even a little bit.
So nah, I don't think this is a Great American Novel, or the Great Gatsby
of the late 20th century (as one Goodreads reviewer floated), although I do think that's what Ellis was going for, in his own sick way. But twenty years later it's still stirring up debate, and if that's not a mark of good litterachurr I dunno what is.