Tom O’Connell's Reviews > Lunar Park

Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
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Mar 08, 2011

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Read from March 08 to 21, 2011

I've been reading Bret Easton Ellis's books in a wishy-washy order, but, on a recommendation from a friend, saved Lunar Park 'til last. She said it was important I was familiar with the characters and universe of his past works, and this is very true. How much you get out of Lunar Park is largely dependent on how big a BEE fan you consider yourself to be.

The biggest hook Lunar Park has to offer is its format: a sort of mock memoir where a fictional version of Bret Easton Ellis is the actual star. It's an interesting, post-modern device. It grants him the ability to do what he's never done before: shed some of his mystique without necessarily sacrificing cool points. How much truth is in what he reveals? Only Bret Easton Ellis would know that. He's able to exorcise some of demons (his father's death, his substance abuse), all the while running a somewhat scathing commentary on his own career. He can reveal insights into his sexual orientation, he can reveal what a selfish prick he might just be, because, ultimately, he's safe behind the veil of fiction. I got the sense that he had a lot of fun with this format.

What makes this a particularly interesting device is that it's the first time BEE has shown any tenderness in his writing. As I reached the mid-point of Lunar Park I was really unsure what to make of his new writing style. The storytelling is more traditional, the prose has less 'edge', and the debauchery is dialled down half a notch. Yeah, BEE (the character) still floats about in a druggy haze, but it doesn't feel as sensationalised as, say, Less Than Zero, American Psycho or Rules of Attraction. His character reads like a forty-something writer clinging to his youth. Sad, and a little pathetic, but that's the point.
Fictional BEE was a lot easier to identify with than the hyper-indifference of Clay or Patrick Bateman. At this point in Bret Easton Ellis's career (where his ultra-stylised drug yarns had become formulaic, and were bordering on self-parody) I think it was crucial to have that extra dimension, to have some actual soul. It shows he's maturing, growing out of all that edgy hyperbole shit, and finding his skin as a writer.

That said, though, Lunar Park isn't all heart-on-sleeve. It's just the first time I've seen him attempt something with more depth than a puddle. His relationship with his fictional wife and son feel real, and offer some scary insight into how some real families operate. There's the good times balancing the bad. Often there are things simmering beneath the surface, making every interaction seem shaky and strained. It's a story about life in the suburbs, which is a lot easier for most readers to find their footing in than one about the world of supermodels or wall street gazillionaires. Lunar Park offers the promise of a new direction. If indeed Bret Easton Ellis heads down a path of substance-over-style my affection for him will multiply tenfold.


Okay, I suppose I ought to mention all that horror nonsense, too.

To be honest these elements were the detractors for me. There were some cool set pieces, and the overarching sense of paranoia was great, but there was just too much going on.
Check this: Bret's house is physically transforming into his childhood home, a toy Furby has come to life and gutting animals, some mysterious monster lurks about outside, Patrick Bateman is running about town, performing all those gratuitous murders from American Psycho, Bret is receiving mysterious blank emails at 2am every morning (from the bank where his father's ashes are stored), all over town young boys are mysteriously disappearing, and Clay (from Less Than Zero) keeps appearing, interfering with Bret's life.
It's daunting just listing them, let alone enduring them crammed awkwardly into the narrative. The idea is great: his past is literally haunting him, but the execution, at times, felt sloppy. Too many of these threads are left without satisfying conclusions (which is the inherent risk of having seventy-five subplots), resulting in a really weak, rushed ending. Something of a pet peeve of mine was how fictional Bret Easton Ellis repeatedly turned a blind eye to all the supernatural shit surrounding him, dismissing them as drug trips. Some spooky shit would happen to him at the end of a chapter, only to have him begin the next chapter at couple's counselling repressing what he saw and deluding himself into thinking it was all in his mind. Very frustrating.


So, Lunar Park is a bit of a curious book to review. On one hand it's brilliant, and on the other it's pretty awful. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but it was hard not to feel a little cheated by the weaker elements. I just wish a decent editor would've made some ruthless cuts, streamlining the ideas into something a little more coherent. Then Lunar Park would've worked better.

I've noticed it's gotten a lot of flack, and for that I'm saddened. I'm happy to give Bret the credit he deserves because, even though this is a flawed book, he's finally shown promise of branching out. It's a courageous attempt that I can do nothing but celebrate. I'm looking forward to whatever he does next (Imperial Bedrooms doesn't count, it's a sequel).

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03/11/2011 page 200
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