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Less Is More With Bret Easton Ellis . . .

Posted by 2 Dollar Productions Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I've known about author Bret Easton Ellis for quite awhile. My knowledge stemmed from the fact that several of his novels have been made into movies like "Less Than Zero," "Rules of Attraction," and "American Psycho."

But I had never read any of his work until recently when I stumbled across a cross-section of his material at Half-Price Books.

I selected "Less Than Zero" and "American Psycho" for my initial foray into Ellis territory, and after reading both of them, certain patterns of his world were clear, a fixation with the pervading perverseness and hollow existence that dominates the lives of privileged kids and young adults on both coasts.

In general, I have a fairly low tolerance for stories which chronicle the plight of the ultra-rich whether they happen to be kids or adults. I'd still take their problems over being poor and neglected any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

But I did like "Less Than Zero" which takes a look at a group of college kids in California who drift through a hazy life in an 80s cloud of drugs, debauchery, sex and tanning.

Parents are non-entities in the story as they are typically vacationing in Europe or somewhere far away, and even if they are in town, most are lost in their own problems with just enough parental concern for their children to supply them with money to buy drugs and then leave them with empty houses to ingest their drugs to aid their sexual exploits.

Things could be worse for a kid, right?

But too much freedom can lead to bad things, which of course, starts to happen as this group of semi-students finds themselves searching for increasingly greater thrills or debasement to keep hold of their limited attention spans.

There also seems to be some sort of anti-drug message buried in the excess, but my main take-away was to never get behind on your drug payments lest you end up sucking off some guy from Cleveland in a sleazy California hotel room, while your good friend watches you pay off your debts in the only way possible.


"Less Than Zero" was a lean novel that didn't waste sentences or indulge in too much hyperbole - it just let events unfold which gave them greater dramatic weight.

"American Psycho" touched on similar themes of money, drugs, sex and tanning in the 80s, but this time the setting was New York City. And the characters were now adults, or at least overgrown kids masquerading as adults between their intense competition for the best clothes and the unique ability to obtain reservations at the hottest new restaurants.

I saw "American Psycho" in the theater, and I felt the same way about the book as I did the film - they both worked well when they focused on the out-of-control greed in the 80s, but lost their footing and became redundant and excessive when the story turned to killing people in elaborate ways.

The book was even worse in this aspect as the final 200 pages or so seemed to be on one endless loop that featured the main character, Patrick Bateman:

A) Choosing a woman or multiple women - who may or may not be prostitutes - to come back to his place
B) Having porn-quality sex with them that usually feature cocaine, champagne and/or X

C) After a single or multiple climaxes, the women would then be chopped to pieces and mutilated in worse and worse fashions

It's no surprise that I remember reading that Ellis came under some fire for being a rampant misogynist after the book's release.

Anyway, when these type of salacious activities weren't happening, it was all about getting reservations for restaurants, a little bit about his Wall Street work and a lot about his gym regime. Despite the fact that Ellis can write a pretty damn good sex scene, I found it a brutal slog to actually finish the novel and it was never clear to me why Bateman was the "American Psycho" as his rationale was murky at best.

All in all, Ellis is batting .500 in my book because I could recommend "Less Than Zero," but "American Psycho" took a decent premise and essentially shit all over it. Metaphorically speaking.

I figure I'll have to grab one more Ellis book to see which way the tide will turn, as I enjoy resolution in my life and at the very least I want to see if he wrote anything where the main character wasn't obsessed with getting a good tan.



  1. I love Bret Easton Ellis, I found him many a years ago, and loved his work.... he has an intersting way of telling a story, in a way that often leaves you feeling greasy and uneasy with yourself for enjoying it... but I suppose in a good way....

  2. JLee Says:
  3. I've seen both these movies and although I liked both, "American Psycho" left me scratching my head a little. I kept thinking "Is this a dream sequence? Is it real??" Kind of surreal. "Less than Zero" was more real and sad, especially considering Robert Downey Junior's real life battles. Life imitating art. Or vice versa. I also felt that dirty ugly feeling, but then again, I read real life murder stories, so I guess I'm just a weirdo.

  4. Shroom-monkey - I generally liked the books I read, but AP just didn't sit well with me after the first half for whatever reasons. He could still write some good scenes, but I felt it was getting redundant (you are 100% correct about feeling vaguely dirty afterwards)

    Jlee - I need to rent "Less Than Zero" now as I have known about it, but never seen it. No comment on the weirdo part. Ha. Everybody reads different, I think as long as you read something then you're ahead of the game.

  5. Anonymous Says:
  6. you are a renaissance man, aren't you? all-around educated and fit. very impressive

  7. Kayla Says:
  8. "...drugs, debauchery, sex and tanning."
    The first three vices I can really get behind, but tanning? Haha

  9. Anonymous - Thanks as I've been referring to myself as Rennasaince (sp?) man for years. Obviously spelling isn't factored into that assesment. Ha.

    Kayla - Damn right, but I have to admit that a decent tan can enhance the other 3 things. At least on most people.

  10. m Says:
  11. Amercian Psycho was one of the most disturbing books I ever read. The violence just highlighted the sickness of that greedy 80s yuppie lifestyle. One of the most haunting parts was really brief - he saw a guy like him at a club writing "Die Yuppy Scum" on the wall. It gave me nightmares.

  12. Miss Ash Says:
  13. I read both of those books many moons ago and at the time i recall enjoying them.

    Whatever you do though, DO NOT read Glamorama as your next choice. That book was AWFUL...painfully so....he keeps talking about how cold it is and how there is confetti everywhere.

  14. M - I remember that scene as well. That's what frustated me though as Ellis can write an evocative scene, but I just felt like the violence went so far over the top towards the end that it started to lose its relevance for me. I think it would have been more effective with a little restraint. Just a little.

    Miss Ash - Thank you as I remember noting that Glamorama was out there, but I think I'll go with another one - Rules of Attraction perhaps - as who gives a shit if it's really cold?

  15. I haven't ever read any of his books and now I'm still pretty sure I won't. I guess having worked with students at Georgetown University I saw enough of those types of behaviors in person.

  16. If you were at Georgetown, then I bet you did. Ha.

  17. Jackie Says:
  18. Reminds me of the British Modernist classic "The Good Soldier" by Ford Maddox Ford... it's about 4 rich people who cheat on each other and kill themselves. I thought it was funny.

  19. Anonymous Says:
  20. Totally agree. And I can honestly say that "American Psycho" is the only book that I've ever thrown into the trash can, immediately upon finishing it. On the other hand, prior to reading it, I didn't know that Armani made a Habitrail...


  21. Jackie - I haven't heard of the book or the author. I'll have to look into it.

    Lee - I'm glad someone else felt that way too. There was enough high fashion advice in there to choke a camel, but it just got more and more taxing to read as it went along.

  22. Sherry Says:
  23. I don't know if you've already rented it or not, but you do need to watch Less Than Zero. It's so 80's, but it's part of my collection and I love RDJr. in it.


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