Jessica's Reviews > Less Than Zero

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
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Apr 26, 08

bookshelves: leetle-boys, groups-of-people, california-über-alles, substance-related-disorders
Recommended to Jessica by: marshall
Recommended for: fans of today's mtv reality shows about overprivileged, lobotomized so-cal youth
Read in April, 2008

This book seems boring and shallow, and reading it gives me an anesthetized, hollow, detached feeling that I would not describe as entirely pleasant.

And yet I cannot seem to stop, and whenever I have to, I become very anxious to return to it as quickly as I can. Its appeal is no less powerful for being difficult to pinpoint or explain.

This experience reminds me of something, but I'm not sure what.... Oh yeah, I know: Bright Lights, Big City. Way better, though, so far. I love all the characters' clothes.

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Okay, so I really, really liked this a lot, though I totally get why a lot of people didn't. I must say I find many reactions to it perplexing. The Village Voice blurb on the back of my copy calls Less Than Zero "sexy and sassy," which has to be one of the most bizarre characterizations imaginable: to me, this is one of least sassy, least sexy books I can think of (might tie with Marilynne Robinson's Gilead for that prize?). However, maybe that's just because I got confused and missed the point, as often happens.... I mean, a lot of what I kept thinking while reading this was about how tragically I was born in the wrong time, and why didn't I ever get to see Fear and X in LA in their heyday, and I'm pretty sure this was not really what I was supposed to take away from this novel.

My experience of this book was no doubt colored by an unexpected plate-of-shrimp coincidence of life and fiction that I cannot expand upon adequately on this family website. I will say that I think this is the perfect cocaine novel because it so perfectly epitomizes the soul-sucking hollowness and numb angst at the core of this kind of lifestyle and drug use (or so I've heard).

The reason why I thought this was so good, though, and what I'm surprised no one else on here seems to have felt, was that while in one way this was such a total period piece specifically criticizing the materialistic hedonism of the eighties or whatever, to me it transcended that. I seem to be in the minority in feeling this way, and without that sense that there was a larger point, this novel would've been just the cheap trick many other readers accuse it of being. To me, though, this completely deadening, unappealing, unglamorous litany of friends' names and routes driven and restaurants visited and drugs taken was so skillfully done because it should have been so boring but was somehow strangely mesmerizing. With a few missteps towards the end -- I found the whole thing with the friend and the pimp maudlin, silly, and totally off pitch from the rest of the novel -- everything is presented in a flat, deadpan way that makes it both so horrific and yet comprehensible. I never wondered why this kid was doing the things that he did, and that was where the book worked for me, because it's what created a kind of bridge to other lives, including my own.

If Less Than Zero's just a criticism of spoiled, zonked-out rich kids, there's not much of a point to this book, but if you start thinking about your own life, and life in general, then for me that's where it transcends its subject matter. You look at these extreme, exaggerated characters' ridiculous activities and the bizarre, soulless ways they live and relate to each other and it seems so sickening and meaningless, but then in a certain way it forces you to look at activities and life and relationships generally with a wider scope, and you start to wonder how meaningful any of it is, even if you aren't some gross millionaire LA cokehead, even if you're some mild-mannered social worker whose biggest addiction is Bookface. Like, this character's life is obviously pointless, but really, let's be honest, how much of a point is there to anything?

Does that any make sense? It did to me. I know the point I'm saying he makes isn't particularly brilliant or earth-shaking, plus maybe I'm giving BEE too much credit, but I thought this book worked. If you look at it just as a satire of this kind of lifestyle then yeah, it seems like a waste of paper, because how tough a target are these subjects? But then if you start thinking about glass houses and stones, for me that's where it gets good. It's a certain nihilistic way of looking at the world that I usually try to shy away from myself, but it was good to be reminded of it, because this stuff is there. People are really like this. I mean, they are and they aren't, you know?

Reading this book also reminded me of that time I went out on a date with my (formerly) Angeleno Bookster Marshall. When he finally came to New York, I was dismayed to learn that in fact he'd been joking about his willingness to breed with me, but after I got over that initial disappointment, we scored a gram and spent a very pleasant evening going up and down in the elevator of the Flatiron building, arguing over Elvis Costello and American Psycho, and gossiping about our mutual Booksters. It was a fun evening, and it's too bad Marshall wouldn't reproduce with me because I bet those Bookster genes would've created an awesome reviewer, albeit one with a frighteningly low birth weight.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Since you mention it, why wouldn't Marshall breed with you? Your virtual readership would like to know. You can tell us. We won't breathe a word.


Jessica Beats me, you'd have to ask him, and to do that you'd have to find him, and I think Marshall just moved to Spain, so good luck with that.... Anyway, it's all for the best. Returning the expensive Maclaren stroller I'd bought means I have extra money for drugs!


Bryce Wilson Though my appriciation for the book decreased on an additional read, I can totally appriciate your review.

The Sexy and Sassy line cracks me up, It's about as sexy and sassy as The Naked Lunch.


Bryce Wilson For Extra Fun read Weetzie Bat in the next hour. I know you're a fan. The Juxtaposition of the two nearly caused my head to explode.


Jessica It's funny that you say that. I happen to have read both books yesterday, and yes, they are about the most hilarious Hell-A double feature a person could possibly imagine, especially since the characters are hanging out at the exact same time in many of the same places. I love the idea of Clay bumping into Weetzie at some club.... hysterical.


message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 26, 2008 03:02PM) (new)

Love the review, DFJ, but you seemed a lot wiser when you looked like me.

(All the MTV references embarrassed me in this book. Although they were referring to the MTV of Martha Quinn and J.J. Jackson, I couldn't help but picture the MTV of Date My Mom and A Shot at Love with Tila Chlamydia.)


Jessica Thanks, Robert, but I already got her to sign the shit out of everything she'd ever written, back in my teenage days. FLB was in Berkeley quite a bit, I guess because she went to school up there, and she was buddies with the people at the fantasy bookstore. Such a nice lady! Now BEE, on the other hand.... if he's going to be somewhere, I'm sure Paul'd love a signed copy from that guy.


P.S. Don't tempt me, gothboy. I only changed it back because everyone was complaining.


message 8: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Instead of a signed copy from BEE, I wouldn't mind the preserved body of a large rat which had eaten one of BEE's tender parts, that would be fun. I would need a document of authentication of course, otherwise it could be any old rat.


message 9: by Maya (last edited Nov 03, 2008 07:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Maya Panika Spot-on review.

This book seems boring and shallow, and reading it gives me an anesthetized, hollow, detached feeling that I would not describe as entirely pleasant.

And yet I cannot seem to stop, and whenever I have to, I become very anxious to return to it as quickly as I can. Its appeal is no less powerful for being difficult to pinpoint or explain.


My feelings exactly. I found it utterly compelling, couldn't put it down, but I really couldn't tell you why.

It's a wonderful book. Hideous, but wonderful.


message 10: by Beverly (new)

Beverly I looked this book up because of the sequel BEE has out. I loved your review. I love Bret Easton Ellis, but I am not sure why. Or at least I can't articulate it. You did it for me, almost. Thanks.


message 11: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc Have you read "Imperial Bedrooms"?


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