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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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The story, told as a first person narrative by the lead character, Patrick Bateman, is of a very wealthy, very successful finance exec living in New York City in the 80s. His life is a rigid routine and his focus is on all the outward trappings of the little slice of the world in which he lives. He watches the same TV show every morning, obsesses over returning video tapes on time, pays extreme attention to every little detail of his outward appearance and those around him, can identify every designer label worn by everyone around him, down to their socks, has endless arguments, obsessions and comparisons of what the hot restaurants and clubs are on any given day, discusses pop music in language that would make a Rolling Stone snob have palpitations, and in general, takes everything to the nth degree. Oh, and along the way, he commits many horrifically extreme acts of violence as casually as he ties his shoes.
The book is both a satire of the 80s rich-yuppie world and a story of how one man is attempting to find an identity through adopting as perfectly as possible all the trappings of the world in which he exists. Look past the violence, which is more graphic than most can imagine, and enjoy the book for all that it offers.
And, if you haven't seen the movie and want to read the book, PLEASE read the book first. Here's why:
If you have seen the movie, you know that it concludes with his realizing that all his violent acts seem to have occurred only in his imagination. Knowing this detracts from the reading of the book, because it dampens the horror you would likely feel in the earlier parts of the book. As the book progresses, two things happen: The acts of violence become more intense, graphic and frequent, and you, the reader, begin to question whether they are real. Many times, he declares to his friends and dinner companions that he did so and so horrible thing, and they completely ignore it, as if he never said it or as if it was just a joke, and some of the things he supposedly does would certainly go discovered. This slow realization is a key to the story, and knowing it beforehand is a detriment.
Beyond that, the movie digresses from the book in that it (the movie) actually has a plot and ending of a sort. The book lacks a narrative story line, instead painting a portrait of a man who is empty inside and spends his life seeking (and failing) to create an identity for himself by conforming to the norms of his micro-society to the best of his ability.
Bateman goes into excruciating, yet riveting detail about everything that interests him - his facial products, the bands he loves, the food he enjoys, and the people he snuffs out. I found myself laughing out loud in the beginning, then trying not to laugh, and finally trying not to get sick. As Bateman slips further into insanity, the crimes he imagines become more and more hideous - unbelievably hideous! I wonder what made Ellis imagine some of things he describes. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who chooses to take the journey of darkness that is required in reading it, so I will not go into detail about any of the incidents described therein.
I gave the book 4 stars because, in spite of its graphic violence, it was very well written and did a lovely job of demonstrating the ugly side of being extremely successful - the snobbishness, the excesses, and finally, the extreme boredom that can result when it all comes too easily. In fact, I believe it is Bateman's boredom with his life, his "friends", and his job that leads him down the road of psychosis wherein his only thrills come from imagining himself committing completely heinous deeds. His imagination frees him from the boredom that is dragging him down into the depths of his soul. This season I have also read "Liar's Poker", "When Genius Failed", and "The Big Short". The last movie I saw before reading Ellis's novel was "The Wolf of Wall Street". There is a common thread running between them all. Ellis just takes it all to another, albeit extremely disturbing, level.