American Psycho

American Psycho by Bret Easton EllisAuthor: Bret Easton Ellis
Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries (1991)
Number of Pages: 399
How long it took me to read: 1 week
Where I bought this book: picked it up for myself at a local bookstore
ISBN: 0-679-73555-1

Like a Moth to a Flame

To be fair, I was actually exposed to the movie version first, and even then, it was only because a friend had forced me into viewing it. What really directed me towards the book was that, honestly, I still had no idea what I had actually just watched by the time the credits had rolled. My curiosity was peaked, but I needed a better understanding of what they were trying to capture on screen. I did some research before grabbing the book, only to discover that its initial release was famous for the amount of controversy it had stirred up. Well, that sealed the deal for me. I needed to know what all of the fuss was about, and what kind of source material led to a movie that could captivate me so much while still leaving me so unsatisfied.

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Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “In this office right now I am thinking about how long it would take a corpse to disintegrate right in this office. In this office these are the things I fantasize about while dreaming: Eating ribs at Red, Hot, and Blue in Washington, D.C. If I should switch shampoos. What really is the best dry beer? Is Bill Robinson an overrated designer? What’s wrong with IBM? Ultimate luxury. Is the term ‘playing hardball’ an adverb? The fragile peace of Assisi. Electric light. The epitome of luxury. Of ultimate luxury. The bastard’s wearing the same damn Armani linen suit I’ve got on.” (pp.274-5)

4. “While taking a piss in the men’s room, I stare into a thin, web-like crack above the urinal’s handle and think to myself that if I were to disappear into that crack, say somehow miniaturize and slip into it, the odds are good that no one would notice I was gone. No…one….would…care. In fact some, if they noticed my absence, might feel an odd, indefinable sense of relief.” (p.226)

3. “Today I’m meeting Bethany for lunch at Vanities, the new Evan Kiley bistro in Tribeca, and though I worked out for nearly two hours this morning and even lifted weights in my office before noon, I’m still extremely nervous. The cause is hard to locate but I’ve narrowed it down to one of two reasons. It’s either that I’m afraid of rejection (though I can’t understand why: she called me, she wants to see me, she wants to have lunch with me, she wants to fuck me again) or, on the other hand, it could have something to do with this new Italian mousse I’m wearing, which, though it makes my hair look fuller and smells good, feels very sticky and uncomfortable, and it’s something I could easily blame my nervousness on.” (p.230)

2. “For dinner I order the shad-roe ravioli with apple compote as an appetizer and the meat loaf with chèvre and quail-stock sauce for an entrée. She orders the red snapper with violets and pine nuts and for an appetizer a peanut butter soup with smoked duck and mashed squash which sounds strange but is actually quite good. New York magazine called it a ‘playful but mysterious little dish’…” (p.77)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1.…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.” (pp.376-7)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

One of the biggest controversies of this particular work is that, yes, the book is incredibly graphic. In fact, it’s possibly the most graphic work of fiction I’ve ever come across. I didn’t let that push me away, though. In all actuality, I found it to be one of the most alluring parts of the narrative. The violence and sexuality of this novel doesn’t seem to be written in a way that’s meant to frighten. The impression I get is that it’s all about the detachment the main character feels from reality, and how this detachment is a byproduct of the society he lives in.

“Reading American Psycho can be disturbing at times, but the casualness with which Ellis presents the graphic scenes is as horrifying as it is genius. Although, having worked for people with the same status of affluence as most of the characters in the book, I did find it a bit disconcerting to see how limitless that particular lifestyle could be in the hands of someone so inhuman. However, the fact that Ellis is keeping me so enthralled by and invested in a character who possesses no real emotion, no qualities with which I can relate to, is what great writing is all about.”

“In some instances, Ellis’ novel tests my patience. In order to properly convey the extreme sides of narcissism and consumerism of human nature that this book projects onto the yuppie culture of Wall Street in the late 1980s, the author quite frequently includes incredibly detailed descriptions of fashion, music, and food that sometimes border on the obsessive. Some may argue that a four-page chapter dedicated entirely to Patrick Bateman’s opinion of the band Genesis is a bit much, but I believe that it’s dedication like this that grounds the novel in a world that’s so ungrounded.”

“Although this is a simple point, one of the great pleasures I find in this book is that I really don’t know what to expect with each page. There’s no specific plot or real formula that American Psycho follows; it’s just a collection of excerpts from this character’s (Patrick Bateman’s) day-to-day life. I’m never sure if a chapter is going to drag me through the most grotesque murder scene I’ve ever read, or if it will simply put me in the middle of a conversation with a bunch of men who can’t decide where to make a dinner reservation. It’s unnervingly hypnotic, and surprisingly refreshing.”

“Since this journey started with my viewing of the movie version, I went back and gave it a second watch after finishing the book. Although I don’t usually like comparing novels to their cinematic counterparts, I really feel that the film seamlessly captured the essence of Ellis’ work. The violent content is toned down on screen, sure, but the lack of humanity and the many masks that smile back in its place are always evident. Regardless of which medium presents the story, I can’t help but become filled with this overwhelming sense of dread that everything is in a constant state of flux. No one is safe, and those with the most perfect of lives always seem to be on the verge of slipping into total chaos, even though the main character appears to be the only one aware of this particular breed of madness.”

“This is one of the rare cases where I have no problem at all suggesting that the movie can be watched before reading the novel. Normally I like to formulate my own image and voice for literary characters as my mind sees fit to define them, but in this case, I don’t think I could have done it as well as they did it on screen. Sure, this caused me to imagine Patrick Bateman speaking with Christian Bale’s voice throughout the entire book, but if anything, that made it all the better for me. Since the book is covered quite frequently in what I would call a haze of ambiguity, I feel I was able to appreciate reading the dialogue more because I saw it come to life first. Reading the novel with these voices in my head, I understood how characters who exhibit such an indifference towards their surroundings could actually exist in the real world.”


Jared Dee

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  3. Gareth Long says:

    “Sure, this caused me to imagine Patrick Bateman speaking with Christian Bale’s voice throughout the entire book, but if anything, that made it all the better for me.”

    I had a similar experience with Fight Club. In some ways, already having a visual image in mind for faces, bodies and locations took the pressure of my brain to conjure them, allowing it space to concentrate on Chuck Palahniuk’s writing.

    Of course, that only works in cases where the film makers have understood the writing well enough to create a solid mirror of the book. After all, some writers will not want us to have a well-formed impression of what their characters look like – it may be part of their intention to deliberately obscure it. (Iain Banks’ ‘The Wasp Factory’ springs to mind).

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