TW: mentions of rape, violent murder
Welp, I guess the fourth time is a charm.
Brett Easton Ellis’ thing is never going to be my thing. Vomiting brand names, writing with a mix of flatness and kinetic energy, satirizing culture to the point where there’s no line. Glamorama was trash and the rest of his works have never done much for me.
However, I’ve read a lot lately about New York City in the 80s and what Wall Street was like in that time. I also read an interview by Mary Herron, the director of the movie adaptation of the novel (a movie I love) where she talked about how much she appreciated the book and what she took out of it.
Those combined forces put me in the right frame of mind to finally get to this one.
And dammit, it’s really good. If it wasn’t for Ellis’ vanities, it would be great.
New York City culture in the 80s was all about getting ahead, nowhere more so than on Wall Street. Designer clothes, latest fads, trendy restaurants, etc. It makes perfect sense that Patrick Bateman, literally an empty suit, would find no joy in his pursuits and turn instead to homicide.
Ellis opens with the famous line from Dante’s Inferno: Abandon all hope ye who enter. It’s scrawled on a Chemical Bank, which mirrors the entry way to Hell for Dante and from there, it’s all downhill. Bateman is trapped on the island of Manhattan and no amount of money or cultural consumerism or drugs or sex or even murder can get him off. It’s satire in the most effective way because Ellis knows the time and the place. This book could almost be set in the Gotham of Tim Burton’s Batman. The best satire takes reality and just slightly tilts it on its axis. Ellis has the right balance.
Along those lines, Bateman’s worship of Donald Trump is perfect. Who better for such a soulless New York elite to idolize than the Donald himself? I know Ellis has gone off the deep end the last few years writing about race but he accurately pegs the Donald for who he is and who he appeals to. The whole book is Bateman’s Fifth Avenue.
And while I do think the movie is superior and perhaps the best possible way to adapt the story, Ellis does a better job than Mary Herron of chronicling Bateman’s descent into madness.
The only reason it falls short of greatness for me is the graphic descriptions of rape and murder. I don’t think they’re necessary and I confess to skipping over large parts of them. People praise Ellis for his language in depicting them. To me, it’s him wallowing in sadism.
But aside from that, this is a hell of a book, both figuratively and literally. I may even reread it some day. It’s tough to see how someone can do satire more effectively.