Monday, October 18, 2010

American Psycho--a portrait of how much we suck

I hope some of you have at least read something by author Bret Easton Ellis, even if it's not American Psycho. I'm reading this novel for the second time, and this time around I'm really giving attention to not so much the gory, sodomizing, keep-you-up-at-night incredibly graphic sex/murder scenes (yes, they are one and the same), but really Ellis's attention to detail, his gorgeous prose, and the sadness with which he depicts modern American life.

I find that Patrick Bateman's often exhausting attention to detail actually pertains much to our superficial, materialistic existences. With painful precision he describes his morning in the bathroom: "in the shower I use first a water-activated gel cleanser, then a honey-almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Vidal Sassoon shampoo is especially good at getting rid of the coating of dried perspiration, salts, oils, airborne pollutants and dirt that can weight down hair and flatten it to the scalp which can make you look older. The conditioner is also good--silicone technology permits conditioning benefits without weighing down the hair which can also make you look older. On weekends or before a date I prefer to use the Greune Natural Revitalizing Shampoo, the conditioner and the Nutrient Complex. These are formulas that contain D-panthenol, a vitamin B-complex factos; polysorbate 80, a cleansing agent for the scalp; and natural herbs."

and what he is changing into at the gym: "It was a cool morning but seems warmer after I leave the office and I'm wearing a six-button double-breasted chalk-striped suit by Ralph Lauren with a spread-collar pencil-striped Sea Island cotton shirt with French cuffs, also by Polo, and I remove the clothes, gratefully, in the air-conditioned locker room, then slip into a pair of crow-black cotton and lycra shorts with a white waistband and side stripes and a cotton lycra tank top, both by Wilkes....(it goes on)

and what other people are wearing: "He's wearing a linen suit by Canali Milano, a cotton shirt by Ike Behar, a silk tie by Bill Blass and cap-toed leather lace ups by Brooks Brothers. At Harry's we spot [Van Patten] who is wearing a double breasted wool and silk sport coat, button-fly wool and silk trousers with inverted pleats by Mario Valentino, a cotton shirt by Gitman Brothers, a polka-dot silk tie by Bill Blass and leather shoes from Brooks Brothers."

These passages go on and on about clothing, products, electronics, you name it. The point is that these people have everything money can buy them and yet they are all completely miserable human beings. I mean, Patrick Bateman is a serial killer, for God's sake! But I think the point Ellis is trying to make is that when we attach ourselves too much to the importance of material goods we become monster-like. Granted, Bateman's materialism is, in part, a manifestation of his obsessive nature: who can forge the memorable scene between Patrick and his brother Sean (of Rules of Attraction fame, also a great novel) where Sean, the younger of the two, seems infinitely cooler and makes Patrick seem nearly like a pariah. And there's also the scene where Bateman happens to see Tom Cruise in the elevator of his building and so wants to seem cool in front of him, but Tom Cruise has zero interest. What this points to is Bateman's lack of self esteem which leads to his obsessive materialism (to the point where it is all he thinks about) to his (perhaps fantasies of) brutal sodomizing and murdering of both men and women.

If you have the stomach and the patience to see beyond the horror, what you will find is a harrowing, depressing portrait of what may be a little Patrick Bateman in all of us. Without the killing, of course.

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