Krok Zero's Reviews > American Psycho

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
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Aug 08, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: summer-2010
Read in August, 2010

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. Psycho 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.
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Comments (showing 1-37 of 37) (37 new)

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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Awesome way of working "Story of Everest" into this.

Also, the whole review is fantastic. Great job.

message 2: by brian (last edited Aug 28, 2010 04:03AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

brian   holy fuck, krok.
for years now - YEARS - i have been obsessed with "story of everest."
nearly every time i go back home i watch it with my mom and sister and we go completely fucking apeshit. a huge family bonding thing.
and i don't know that i really believe in the great american novel but so far as that goes regarding the past few generations i think this comes closer than anything i know of. paul bryant be damned!

message 3: by Ellen (new)

Ellen All right; that's it. Gotta read me some Ellis. After reading this, I'll start with Less Than Zero.

Excellent review.

Krok Zero Brian, your family must be awesome if Story of Everest inspires family bonding. At best, the only funny thing my relatives and I can agree on is Larry David.

message 5: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal I guess I'm going to have to read this too. It seems to be some sort of litmus test around here.

But then, do I need to? Krokodil's reviews are so thorough, it's like I read the book already anyway.

DoctorM "American Psycho" ended up costing me hundreds of dollars...I bought copies for every girl I wanted to sleep with...and bought all of Bateman's personal grooming products. I have no idea what that means--- but at least I know about good moisturisers now.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio DoctorM wrote: ""American Psycho" ended up costing me hundreds of dollars...I bought copies for every girl I wanted to sleep with...and bought all of Bateman's personal grooming products. I have no idea what that ..."

You're an unbelievably pathetic asshole.

Krok Zero Whoa. Good looking out, MFSO. Just the fact that this creep commented on my review makes me want to take a shower.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Yeah, not only is he a creep but he's rather stupid (his posts, David's response and my response are the relevant comments):

Krok Zero Ha, I'd actually seen that rambling, meaningless comment about "secrets" but missed David's investigative reporting. The internet breeds all manner of shitheels.

message 11: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Aug 31, 2010 10:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Krokophilia wrote: "Brian, your family must be awesome if Story of Everest inspires family bonding. At best, the only funny thing my relatives and I can agree on is Larry David."

I'm jealous of both of you and your cool families. My parents don't even "get" The Simpsons.

message 12: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Holy crap!

message 13: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason My parents like Two and a Half Men. I think that show is more evil than American Psycho by a long shot. Still, gotta confess: Ellis does nothing for me. An old teacher said every time he read Ellis he wished he were reading Joan Didion, and that has stuck with me as a fairly precise evocation of my own tepid engagement.

Krok Zero Mike wrote: "Still, gotta confess: Ellis does nothing for me."

It's weird -- he's not really a "good" writer in any conventional sense, but he works in such a narrow niche of milieu-combing that he manages to write exactly the books he wants to. The new one, Imperial Bedrooms, is actually a Mulholland Drive-esque surreal L.A. mystery, so I guess he's broadening his horizons a little...

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Mike thinks that Mulholland Drive ultimately is reducible to a thirteen year old boy's wet dream. In a bad way.

I love it, so that description sounds promising to me.

message 16: by David (new)

David The new one, Imperial Bedrooms, is actually a Mulholland Drive-esque surreal L.A. mystery, so I guess he's broadening his horizons a little...

I agree with this completely, Krokophilia. (Although far from Mullholland's emotional depth.)

But Michael Reynolds would hate that book because he hates almost all things that are good.

message 17: by Krok Zero (last edited Sep 01, 2010 07:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Krok Zero I rewatched Mulholland Dr. last year and it held up so damn well -- since I went years between viewings, my oh-yeah-THIS-part recall just increased the nightmarish claustrophobia of Lynch's vision. It struck me how similar Ellis's L.A. in Bedrooms was to Lynch's L.A. in Mulholland, but I have a hard time articulating this similarity, which is why I haven't written a review for it here.

No Reynolds-bashing here, though, please. What you do in the privacy of your own threads is your business, but this is my house.

message 18: by David (last edited Sep 01, 2010 08:07AM) (new)

David I pull his braids to show my love.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Lord David wrote: "I pull his braids to show my love."

Ditto. (This is creepily sexual.)

Krok Zero MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "Lord David wrote: "I pull his braids to show my love."

Ditto. (This is creepily sexual.)"

It's even more creepily sexual given David's mammarian avatar.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Q: Have you ever done this before?

A: I don't know. Have you?

Krok Zero Wait, I totally get it now. Mike and David are the same person: Mike is Betty, full of wide-eyed optimism, and David is Diane, crankily waking up from his dream of Mike.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Ha! Exactly.

And I'm The Cowboy, just because.

message 24: by David (new)

David I really am Diane. More than you'll ever know.

I saw MD for the first time with my long-time ex. Afterward, when we recovered from the emotional experience of it, it was pretty clear -- to both of us -- that the film was (metaphorically) about our demented relationship. I was Betty/Diane, and she was Rita/Camilla.

message 25: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason I'm a lot more Jeffrey Beaumont, actually.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Stop hiding in my closet.

message 27: by David (new)

David Some people tell me I resemble the Elephant Man.

message 28: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 01, 2010 08:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Better than saying you resemble the floating, frothing, fat guy from Dune.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Or the infant from Eraserhead.

Krok Zero I resemble the monster who hides behind the diner.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I resemble Laura Elena Harring's supposedly asymmetrical...


message 32: by David (new)


message 33: by David (new)

David Nude Laura Elena Harring with a snake kills another thread.


message 34: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason That is a nice wig.

Carac Allison I totally agree with you: the outrage about the misogyny in this book prevents meaningful discourse about it.

"marathon absurdism" is one of the best descriptions of Ellis's prose I've encountered. I'll try to remember to verbally cite you if I use it in conversation :)

I think the sublime achievement of the satire is that Bateman can't break free of it. He tries to tell his friends that he's a serial killer and they just laugh. They all think it's hillarious. He's trapped in the dark absurdity just as we the readers are.


Thoughtdome225 Very interesting review, one of the best of this book I've seen. I disagree that Bateman's the only one with a soul, though. Minor characters, like that real estate woman who almost caught him near the end, or the visiting defective, stand outside the yuppie void of the rest of the characters.

Lauren great review!

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