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American Psycho Paperback – March 6, 1991
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From Library Journal
This review is based on the galley issued by Ellis's original publisher, Simon & Schuster, before it cancelled the book. The book is now going through the editing process at Vintage. There may be some changes in the final version. The indignant attacks on Ellis's third novel (see News, p. 17; Editorial, p. 6) will make it difficult for most readers to judge it objectively. Although the book contains horrifying scenes, they must be read in the context of the book as a whole; the horror does not lie in the novel itself, but in the society it reflects. In the first third of the book, Pat Bateman, a 26-year-old who works on Wall Street, describes his designer lifestyle in excruciating detail. This is a world in which the elegance of a business card evokes more emotional response than the murder of a child. Then suddenly, for no apparent reason, Bateman calmly and deliberately blinds and stabs a homeless man. From here, the body count builds, as he kills a male acquaintance and sadistically tortures and murders two prostitutes, an old girlfriend, and a child he passes in the zoo. The recital of the brutalization is made even more horrible by the first-person narrator's delivery: flat, matter-of-fact, as impersonal as a car parts catalog. The author has carefully constructed the work so that the reader has no way to understand this killer's motivations, making it even more frightening. If these acts cannot be explained, there is no hope of protection from such random, senseless crimes. This book is not pleasure reading, but neither is it pornography. It is a serious novel that comments on a society that has become inured to suffering. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/90 and 12/90.
- Nora Rawlinson, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“Bret Easton Ellis is a very, very good writer [and] American Psycho is a beautifully controlled, careful, important novel…. The novelist’s function is to keep a running tag on the progress of culture; and he’s done it brilliantly…. A seminal book.” —Fay Weldon, The Washington Post
“A masterful satire and a ferocious, hilarious, ambitious, inspiring piece of writing, which has large elements of Jane Austen at her vitriolic best. An important book.” —Katherine Dunn
“A great novel. What Emerson said about genius, that it’s the return of one’s rejected thoughts with an alienated majesty, holds true for American Psycho…. There is a fever to the life of this book that is, in my reading, unknown in American literature.” —Michael Tolkin
“The first novel to come along in years that takes on deep and Dostoyevskian themes…. [Ellis] is showing older authors where the hands come to on the clock.” —Norman Mailer, Vanity Fair
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Top customer reviews
In retrospect of heavy criticisms, Mr. Ellis follows with one of the most profound statements regarding the craft of writing, something I believe all writers should well remember, when he states: “You do not write a novel for praise, or thinking of your audience. You write for yourself; you work out between you and your pen the things that intrigue you” (New York Times, 1991). And with American Psycho, as this humble reviewer understands it, Ellis was “working out” how society during the late 1980’s had considered the “surface” things, such as: food, clothes, money, etc., to be the only means in which a person can be defined. And this comment on society becomes obviously apparent and satirically metaphorical when you begin to read his book. In the very first pages, Ellis numbs the mind by using the narrator, Patrick Bateman, who also so happens to be a complete lunatic, to list off in excruciating detail all the many “surface” things he sees on the day to day, such as: designer suits, Walkman’s, music, movies, furniture, TV shows, restaurants, food, etc., etc. These things are important to him, while at the same time, not important. Even the murders are so brutally detailed, eventually at least (the book does have a sense of pace to it), that we become, in a way, desensitized to the violence just as much as we are desensitized to the material. Everything becomes banal. Here is what Pat Bateman has to say for himself towards the end of the book after he emerges from a near-psychotic break:
“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…” (American Psycho, pgs. 376-377).
The above statement was made popular with the release of the theatrical version of the book, staring Christian Bale, back in 2000. And the madman goes on, of course. Bateman questions the very banality of evil, “is evil something we are or something we do?” etc. etc. And by the end, he finds what we “normal” folks might consider to be the deeper things in life, such as: war and politics, family, discoveries, sunrises, heroes, falling in love, blah-blah-blah, to be also utterly dull. Bateman can only find one clear emotion within him, greed – oh and perhaps, as he suggested -- disgust. The most pungent scene, for me, that invokes this macabre bland worldview is at the beginning of the book. Patrick is waiting on Patricia who so happens to be late for their date. When she finally arrives, Patrick narrates, nonchalantly, that she is safe from his knife, safe from him cutting open her throat and watching her bleed with mild disinterest, not because of any kind of luck, and not really because she comes from a wealthy stock, but simply and callously because Bateman made the choice. Bateman states: “Patricia will stay alive, and this victory requires no skill, no leaps of the imagination, no ingenuity on anyone’s part. This is simply how the world, my world, moves” (American Psycho, pg. 282). When I first read this line…my bones were chilled by the eerie ordinariness of it. The stylization is so humdrum you can actually feel madness slipping on like an old pair of slippers as you read the narrators ghastly horrific plunge further down into the rabbit-hole. When he finally emerges, you’re expecting some earth shattering revelation, but his only revelation is that nothing matters. It is what it is. He is what he is. The world is what it is. And there is nothing special in that. And there is nothing special in monotony.
When thinking what American Psycho means to me in 2015, I’m struck by an overwhelming sadness in how some horror books and movies are never appreciated in their day. The heinous reception of American Psycho in 1991 and how it has now become this beloved cult classic reminds me so much of John Carpenter’s adaptation of “Who Goes There” with The Thing (1982). Both were completely hated and bashed by not only critics (which we should expect) but also by audiences. American Psycho stands out to me, not only because of its quip attitude toward yuppie culture during the 1980’s, an excellent timepiece for modern day writers to resource, but also because you can feel the character, the crazed loon, desperately trying to be normal even though he is anything but normal, till the end when he finally snaps and the story whips from first person to third and finally back to first when Pat Bateman realizes there is no “normal.” It’s oddly human and somewhat farcical, something we might even call dark comedy. Everyone around Bateman is, in a lot of ways, similar to one another. They have little to no empathy towards others, not even with each other. This is often seen in not only how they talk and what they discuss, what’s of importance to them, but in how grossly they mistreat the homeless, which during the 80’s was witness to some of the highest percentages in American history. And the very same brutal detail in what they wear and what they eat and who they sleep with. In this, they are mirror images. The only difference, the only way Patrick sets himself apart, is his murderous and sexual appetites (though you could argue his sexual desires are also in line with everyone else). But this is all beneath the “surface,” and when it comes to the criticisms of the book, perhaps those same voices who threatened Bret’s life could only see what was floating on top. On the “surface” are the boring albeit grim details of every little aspect in Pat Bateman’s life, the clothes, the music, the food, the women, and even the way he imagines lacerating those same women. Beneath are metaphors, how we see society, how we place value on meaningless things, how we look at those around us as things, how we’ve become completely callous toward suffering. This is why the book is still so popular and important for readers today. If we can get past the brutality and sink our heads beneath the lapping waves of the mundane, to peer into the depths of consequentialism, for a moment at least, before we’re gasping up for air, we can walk away with some realization or dare I say an awakening. If even for only a moment.
If you have yet to read Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 masterpiece, American Psycho -- well, as the saying goes: there is no time like the present. Just be forewarned that the book is written from the first person perspective. Today, few stories are told from the first person narration. Personally, the only first person stories I’ve read are Lovecraftian. However, I suggest you give the book a fair amount of patience. And patience you will need. As mentioned in my review above, the author goes into grave detail about everything. You will be numbed -- but isn’t that the point?
Throughout the story Bateman hypnotically drones on and on about brand names, designers, furnishings, status symbols, pop music, numbing us (and himself) to the moments of sheer terror, gore and sexual violence that punctuate the book. The fashion houses, the expensive restaurants (with their corny fusion cuisine, each concept funnier than the next) and the fellow stockbrokers are all interchangeable. Don't pay too much focus trying to differentiate the characters. Nobody else in the book can either. Bateman is frequently mistaken for someone completely different, just as he frequently names others incorrectly. In the end it helps him carry on his double life for much longer than he otherwise could have.
The story is populated by a nameless swarm of bored big spenders, unhappily socializing in 1980s NYC. Patrick is different though. His mind is not right. He cruelly murders homeless people, prostitutes, small dogs...escalating to kill people from within his circle of friends. His taste in music is crap.
This book made my blood run cold, yet I was unable to put it down. Bret Easton Ellis is an incredible writer, bringing us into this highly deviant mind.