489 of 533 people found the following review helpful
Bret Easton Ellis, more than once, captured the essence of America in the 1980's. In his books, most notably "Less Than Zero," Ellis codified the look, sound, and feel of the Ronald Reagan, MTV watching, Yuppie 1980's. Ellis was not nearly as interested in showing the flashy glitter of that time as he was in revealing the dark side of excess in an America spiraling into total chaos. In "American Psycho," Ellis attains the rank of a master satirist, viciously skewering a culture that reduces life to power lunches, Armani suits, personal hygiene, and video stores. Ellis is an American Dickens, holding a mirror up to the face of America and daring us to look deep into its depths. Needless to say, the reflection is not pretty.
Ellis's protagonist in "American Psycho" is one Patrick Bateman. Patrick is at the pinnacle of power: he is young, buff, tan, and filthy rich. He works, when he feels like it, at a powerhouse Wall Street firm. Most of his days are filled with parties, dating, dining out, renting videotapes, and buying the best of everything. Why not? Patrick can afford to do whatever he wants in an America that not only approves of his behavior, but ardently wants to emulate it as well. There is one slight quirk in Bateman's well coiffed persona, one small, minutely unpleasant ritual he feels he must engage in from time to time: Patrick likes to rape, torture, and murder people. His usual victims are prostitutes and homeless people, although he isn't above killing an occasional cop or child. That Patrick is, inside, a raving lunatic of epic proportions doesn't matter as long as he can maintain surface appearances. This he manages to do by keeping up on all the latest fads, doling out fashion tips to those less fortunate, and hanging out with the guys and gals on a regular basis.
The book alternates between power lunches at trendy New York restaurants and stomach churning scenes of murder and mayhem. There is a link between two such disparate activities, and a close reading reveals these links. In essence, Bateman is caught up in an empty, soul crushing existence. The people he knows and the places he populates are devoid of any deep feelings. In order to feel, to experience life, Bateman must kill (or at least fantasize about killing). Murder is his release from the daily banalities of Yuppie life, the only time when he feels as though he is participating in a life activity.
The violence may be extended even further, beyond the confines of Bateman's character, to show the results of a materialist culture on the human spirit. Does the best of everything always result in happy, well adjusted human beings? Are those who have great wealth automatically deserving of our respect because they are wealthy? Are these wealthy denizens guaranteed happiness because they can buy the best bottled water, the best stereo system, the best clothing? Ellis's answer is a resounding, and blood drenched, no. Bateman is not happy with his possessions (at least not beyond any surface pleasure), and actually seems to further deteriorate as he acquires more possessions.
The violence committed by Patrick Bateman is truly sickening on many levels. Ellis provides GRAPHIC descriptions of Bateman's murders, rapes, tortures, and yes, cannibalism. Those who read splatter literature won't see anything they haven't seen in horror books printed by small press publishers, but for those not used to horror films and books the violence here will definitely become unbearable. The violence is not only disgusting; it is cruel as well. It is the type of violence that seeks to humiliate and debase human beings, to bring others down to the dark levels where Bateman resides. However, keep this in mind: how can a book proposing to explore the American soul in the late 20th century avoid using violence as a major plot point? We live in an extremely violent society; to ignore that violence is to be dishonest to any serious attempt at social satire.
"American Psycho" is an important statement on late 20th century American society. Bret Ellis is to be commended for penning a book that plunges into the murky depths of our country's soul to expose our paradoxes and our ugliness. Ellis took a lot of heat for writing this book, probably from those who live lives a lot like Pat Bateman's surface existence. As a final note, be careful about watching the film version of this book. It does not capture Ellis's intentions in any way, shape, or form.
59 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2000
I read "American Psycho" only reluctantly, having been led to believe that Bret Easton Ellis was a coked-up "fad" writer whose works were stylish trifles with little literary value. I was wrong -- I now know that Ellis is a genius and "American Psycho" is a work of disturbing brilliance. I started reading it and didn't stop until I had reached the last word on the last page.
I want to point out something that I don't think many people have said -- that what is so menacing and intriguing about Patrick Bateman is that he is so seductive. Yes, of course, we are repelled by Bateman's vacuity (his love of Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston, his inability to have a meaningful relationship or even a decent conversation), but we are also SEDUCED by Bateman's enviable control over the little details of his life -- he keeps in perfect physical shape, he has encyclopedic knowledge of food, he's tremendously informed and assured about the proper attire for any occasion. I'd even venture to say that we envy, in subconscious way, how he is a paragon of grooming and restraint while at the same time giving vent to unspeakable urges. We admire the outrageously poised way in which he goes about satisfying his needs -- whether he's selecting just the right porno movie, a two-thousand-dollar suit, or his next victim. There's something strangely enchanting about his smug self-assurance, even when it's employed in such violent ways. We find ourselves entranced by this perfect, reflective surface of Bateman's life -- just as Bateman is entranced with himself, staring into the perfect surface of his life like Narcissus gazing into his own reflection in a stream. We long to have that kind of confidence and control ourselves.
But this man tortures, slaughters, dismembers, and eats the people around him. The brilliance of this novel has nothing to do with the violence *as* violence, but everything to do with the way the violence is DISCLOSED by Bateman in the narrative. The way he observes and describes what he is doing is in itself an almost infinitely revealing commentary not only on Bateman, but also on a particular slice of culture that he represents -- the smug, cocky, casually violent culture of rich young professional men, their striving, achievement, and narcissistic self-cultivation. Throughout his story, there are almost laughably casual references that show us that he's killed, raped, and otherwise abused far more people than are actually depicted in the book (one of my favorite lines in the book is when he offhandedly mentions that he spent a lunch hour meeting with an attorney about some "bogus rape charges" -- that line was a stroke of genius, on Ellis's part). It's the offhandedness of these references that is so shocking. And it's the "pitch-perfect" voice of Bateman that makes me genuinely in awe of Ellis's gifts as an observer and describer of character and culture. From the way Bateman refers to all good-looking women as "hardbodies," to how the confident vacuity of his "reviews" of Huey Lewis, Whitney Houston, and Phil Collins segues surreally into scenes of human butchery, this book is a landmark of literary craft. I'm laughing at myself for saying that about a book with such wickedly extreme subject matter, but it is absolutely true. If you do not recognize this book as a work of brilliance, the kind of old-fashioned literary achievement we see far too little of these days, you're reading the book far too superficially -- if you criticize Ellis for the book's violence, you're missing the joke!
96 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2000
Bret Easton Ellis is a master at describing the anomie of end of the 20th century, but nowhere is that anomie more disturbingly brought to life than in "American Psycho". The book raised a firestorm when it was due to be released; feminists condemned it as misogynistic trash, and when it was finally published, it was in a trade paperback version because the publisher which was to publish the hardcover version pulled it to avoid all the controversy. All hell will probably break loose when the movie comes out, if it is in any way true to the book.
Ellis gives us Yuppie Manhattan in full effect, where the only things that count are money and designer labels; real people are faceless nonentities with interchangeable names, everyone seems to have a Peter Pan complex, dreading the inexorable approach of the big 3-0, and the defining characteristic of the time is its all-encompassing materialism. The anti-hero of "American Psycho", Patrick Bateman, is a serial killer with a penchant for torturing and murdering young women in a quest to give his empty existence some meaning. Bateman is perfect on the surface; he's young (26), handsome, expensively dressed, lives in a trendy condo on the trendy Upper West Side, makes six figures on Wall Street, and can reel off designer names at the drop of a hat. He can glance at anyone for a split second and tell who designed each item of his or her visible apparel. Bateman's life is so devoid of meaning that he thinks all this superficial knowledge actually matters. He can't love anyone, including himself; he treats friends, lovers and acquaintances with equal contempt; and he is totally devoid of compassion, tenderness, remorse, warmth, or anything remotely resembling a conscience. If he has a date with a young woman, it may or may not end in his torturing her to death; as he comments early in the book, "This is simply the way the world -- my world -- moves."
The book was indicted mainly on account of its shock value, and some of the murders are so revolting that you'll want to reach for the Alka-Seltzer. But murder and mayhem aside, the spiritually empty, shallow and soulless people portrayed in "American Psycho" pretty much represent the spiritual emptiness, shallowness and soullessness of the 1980s. Ellis overdid the blood and gore, and the relentless recitation of designer names does become wearying after the first fifty pages, but again, this only serves to emphasize the numbing emptiness of Bateman's inner self. "American Psycho" is a telling portrait of an age of material excess when nothing that really matters, mattered.
56 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2005
I just finished this book for the first time. I was given it by a friend who said it was the only book that has actually made him physically sick by reading it. Although my gag reflex didn't kick in, the gore was, at times, certainly overwhelming. These were not, however, my main focus in the reading, and I don't think they need to be. The details, the descriptions, the style, and the subject matter commented upon by the narrartor were all extremely engaging. I wasn't privy to the objections to this book when it was originally published but it seems as tho those objections were focused solely on the descriptive gore of the novel.
Anyone who suggests this should be banned or censored simply needs to read the book again. For me, it wasn't a masterpiece nor will the substance of this novel become a central theme of my own social vision. Much of the core satire in this novel can be found in less shocking prose (God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut), but I am still taken by the beautiful style and coldness of the narrartor that the author conveys. A wonderful lesson in literature and clever poignant commentary although not for the weak at heart nor should you expect to learn anything you shouldn't already know.
Still, recommended. For the serious reader.
If you're looking for cheap thrills and detailed descriptions of lude acts, go elsewhere. 400 pages of descriptions of fashion sense will quickly dull whatever rush you're looking for from the seven descriptive murders of the novel.
64 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2000
A great, effective book. Ellis tailors his style perfectly to fit the task at hand. While the endless repetitions of Armani, Blass et al. felt overdone initially, I eventually fell into the rhythm and found myself surprised and amused to see Bateman applying the same attention to detail when committing dismemberments and dissections. In a way, such a single-minded hyper-functional style is the finest expression of the ultimate moral emptiness of the book's plot and it's emphasis on appearance over content.
Something which seems to be overlooked in other reviews is how goddamn funny the book is. I had to take care where I would read the thing, since it's a touchy enough matter to be seen reading American Psycho, to say nothing about laughing out loud at it. Ellis is a brilliant writer of dialogue, and the dynamics between the mergers and aquisitions crowd and their incessant bickering about all things GQ make for undeniably comic scenes. And Bateman's incredibly out of place rave about Phil Collins and Genesis is probably the most innovative piece of black comedy I've ever seen.
Yet Ellis employs his humor to heighten the overall sensation of discomfort evoked by the book. There is a certain unease that comes from reading American Psycho generally, but if a reader buys into Ellis's humor, they also must reckon with the realization of what it is they have been laughing at.
A sick and brilliant exercise in form, function, and comedy.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2000
Some novels simply grab you by the throat and refuse to let go. "American Psycho" was the first novel to do that to me. It is more crude, violent, and offensive than anything else that I have read, heard, or seen...yet I could not stop turning the pages!
The story is told from the perspective of Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street yuppie in the 1980's. During the day, he mingles at parties, judges people by their wardrobe, and breaks into spontaneous psychological ramblings. When the sun sets, though, he lives in a world filled with blood and sex.
This is one of the most original books that I have read. It is an interesting examination of the primal obsessions of the modern man, set in a confusing, awkward era. Mr. Ellis spits ideas out at his audience like a machine gun shooting bullets. Keeping up with Patrick's mind is an exhausting journey and is ultimately without reward. After reading the last word of the last page, you did not just finish a gripping novel: you completed a marathon that you simply could not stop.
A couple of words of warning, though. Like I mentioned, the book is remarkably violent. Only the truly open-minded should spend their money (and even they should check the book out at the library before committing). Still, if you're in the mood for a disturbing yet interesting read (or if you saw the film and want to know more about this fascinating character), then step up to the mark and wait for the gunshot.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2001
Clearly I haven't had time to read all of the hundreds of reviews on this book, so I'm not sure if these issues have been addressed before or not. However, I feel that many of the criticisms of American Psycho are seriously misguided because they do not appreciate the purpose and form of the novel.
There are two issues, repetition and extreme violence, that seem to cause the majority of non-believers to trash this book. The so-called repetition, which refers not so much to actually repeating the same things over again, but more the the practice of describing people mainly by their appearance, what they wear, eat, etc.. using an insider language of brand names and unfamilar terminology. Since a brand-name is meaningless as a description to someone unfamiliar with the brand, the result is that the brand names are more or less interchangeable. This then envokes a feeling of incessant repetition and lack of meaning.
Why does Ellis subject us to this mind-numbing assault? The simple answer would be that people who are actually familar with these brand-names and who live materialistic lifestyles actully interpret their surroundings in this language, hence it is simply an accurate protrayal of Patrick Bateman's inner dialog. The truth, however, is that this is not the real reason why Ellis writes in this style. The replacement of literal meaning with essentially abstract patterns makes the effect of reading the novel more akin to listening to music than listening to speech. And the use of mind-numbing repetition, just like in 'techno' music, is meant to create a hypnotic effect to place the reader in an altered state of consciousness. The genious of Ellis is his mastery of this hypnotism, so that his books are not intellectual experiences involving words or ideas, but are more like narcotic experiences.
The use of extreme violence and sex is also an integrated part of this effect. Combined with the hypnotic effect of rhythmic 'repetition', the brutal assault on our most deeply held illusions about good and evil, right and wrong, speakable and unspeakable, finishes the job...making the reading of the novel an intense, almost traumatic experience. The result is that reading the novel has altered our mental wiring in a profound way, much like brainwashing, which if you are familar with groups such as Scientology and Landmark Forum/est relies on very similar techniques.
Those of you who are too stubborn or cautious to let Ellis work his spell on you will simply skim past the 'repetitive' and/or 'repulsive' sections and completely miss out on the essential experience. Those of you who for whatever reason, whether it is conscious willingness or mindless obedience, let the book feed its rhythm into your brain will find the experience powerfully transcedental. Satire of the 80's is the theme but definitely not the point. In my opinion, the film version also failed to capture the essence of Ellis's writing, mainly by reducing the sex and violence to such a dilute and unprovoking level. For movies which come closer to the mind-altering effect, I recommend David Cronenberg movies, e.g. Existenze.
33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2000
This is the story of Patrick Bateman, a very wealthy, narcissistic, psychotic banker living in New York City in the late Eighties. Well, it's not so much a story (in that it has no structured sequence of events), as a stream of Bateman's consciousness. It chronicles various events in his life...Dinner in restaurants that are hard to get into with materialistic, stupid, debutantes; comparing suits and business cards with his vapid, cigar-chomping associates; torturing prostitutes to death; and working out. The strength of Ellis' writing is that it is excruciatingly vivid; from descriptions of designer suits to reviews of his favorite albums (by Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis) and descriptions of his murders. These scenes are among the most harrowing I've ever read. This vividity is sometimes difficult to get through, but contrasts nicely with Patrick's occasional lapses into severe madness, at which point the writing becomes fast with little punctuation and sometimes cuts off in mid-sentence. Another especially effective ploy is the brief, nonchalant references Patrick makes (either in his monologue or out loud to his "friends) to his varied crimes (For example, the quick mention of torturing a small dog to death in the middle of a description of the day's shopping). The real weakness in this work is that, again, there is no story, per se. There's no real beginning or end, no sort of spiritual growth by the protaganist, and no resolution or closure. The book is a free-wheeling commentary on a priviledged group of people too concerned with themselves to notice a lunatic in their midst. Other characters come and go, or are murdered, with no real consequence other than Bateman's (imagined?) reflections on them. The other major problem is that nobody in this book is likeable. Bateman's secretary, Jean, is the moral figure these other monsters are weighed against, but her presence is not strong. The murders are awful and grotesque, but the characters being murdered are just nobodies or cutouts, there's no real sorrow in their deaths. All in all, requires patience and an appreciation for satire. Also, if extreme and repugnant scences of violence (all described vividly) are not for you, than neither is this book.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
American Psycho is an unpleasant book - let's get that straight from the start. If you are easily shocked or disturbed, be warned - Bret Easton Ellis pulls no punches in his graphic descriptions of sex and extreme violence.
However, American Psycho is close to brilliance in the way the author tackles head on the vacuous, deluded and morally bankrupt lifestyle of the aspirant 20th century Wall Street yuppie. Like The Great Gatsby 70 years before it, American Psycho is a damning portrayal of the careless extravagance and shallow spirituality of the American nouveau riche, and the consequences that this lifestyle can bring. Bateman's obsession with designer labels, his appreciation for bland, soulless, fashionable music allied to his violent mysogyny and extreme misanthropy really nail what is wrong with a society that lauds status, money and superficial "success" above integrity, creativity and moral values.
Having said that, Ellis certainly doesn't possess Fitzgerald's command of prose, and how he chooses to deliver his message cannot be called subtle. Nevertheless, American Psycho is a brave, if brutal, attempt at tackling what few have chosen to tackle, and for that the author should be praised.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2001
I first saw this movie a few weeks ago on cable one night...The thing that struck me, other than the shallow vapidness of most of the characters and the brutal(although in the film, almost comic) violence was that I literally could not decide if Patrick had murdered or just simply imagined murdering any of his so-called victims in the movie. Thus, I figured the book would shed more answers. Now, to be honest...I still cant quite decide if he killed any of his victims, though I do lean towards more a fantasy-vengeance/ pleasure-denying instinct to his 'murders'..However, the reason WHY Patrick did what he did, or least the environment that was conducive to it , is very much explained, to me, in the book. First off, let me say that this book IS VERY satirical in nature...gawd knows there are some shallow people in the world...but I like to think..or at least I pray that there are none quite as shallow as in the book. The environment in the book, the nature and mentality of Patrick's peers in the book is reminiscent of say 7th grade, and that is being generous. There is a lack of depth, of perspective and most notably of maturity that is sorely lacking in these people, who seem freeze dried at age 12, for the most part...except for a rare few characters in the book who seem to have some sense of maturity and perspective. Anyway, its in this environment that we find our hero Patrick...a connosiuer of form and fashion. The first thing you notice about this book is the VERY DETAILED description of things..namely peoples clothes i.e. tailor/designer, fabric, style ....of jewelry, hairstylists, furniture etc. When I first read of patrick's morning grooming regimen I thought to myself, "my god, he primps more than I do as a woman!". But, to me, I think the point of this mind-numbing attention to detail is not only to show you the mentality of the late 80's yuppie..but its effects. I think the detailed and relentness description of material excess in the book mirrors the EXACT effect this has on the characters themselves. It is relentless, it is excessive, it is detailed...And in being so, its almost in a way, a sort of UNIFORM with these people who all shop at the same stores, work out at the same gyms, eat at the same restaurants etc. Now for those of you who went to private school, you know the purpose of the uniform is to mute the individual-to promote sameness , group-think and foster a feeling of sympatico within the group. So its not too far a leap to see why Patrick would lose his sense of self and sanity in this individuality snuffing environment..This is highlighted by the fact that NO ONE can put the correct FACE to ANYONE...They all mistake one another the ENTIRE book...I dont think this tidbit is by accident. Also, there are scenes were all the men can be seen ALL wearing the same clothes, be it double -breasted suits or rimmed glasses, further dulling the ability to tell any of them apart. Also, this may be conjecture on my part...but other than a few choice characters....the personalities are almost indistinguishable in this novel. When the male members of the set convene for conversation, u may as well call each person by a letter instead of a name, and I dont think it would detract or add anyting from the conversation..This is not a critique of the content, but rather that, the inflection, tone and interests of the characters of the book are so INTERCHANGEABLE that were you to ascribe words of one to another , it really wouldnt make that much of a difference either way. I think another key insight into how this environment has led to patrick's demise is in his analysis of Greatest Love of All , the Whitney Houston song. Granted, his slant..that it is a touching song of self-preservation and dignity, IS valid...but I think most would agree that its a song about learning to love yourself and of self acceptance, as she clearly states in the song..yet, Patrick's own choice of words were self-preservation...now , granted, that is reaching, lol..but I dont think its totally off the mark. Clearly, to me, it is this world of forced same-ness that his driven Patrick over the edge..the only way to fill the void was to revel in it....to stay up on the latest trends , gadgets , sensations etc..but even this means only to be more immersed in those limits, of always being still unsatisfied i.e. Patrick's utter failure to get into Dorsia's on his own. Unfortunately, the only option left in Patrick's mind was murder...either real or imagined.