::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Less Than Good: Bret Easton Ellis

After reading Bret Easton Ellis’ fifth novel “Lunar Park,” a fascinating question emerges. Can Ellis write? Because “Lunar Park” is a mess – a sloppy, hideously constructed work. It is his worst book (and if you’ve had the misfortune to read his second novel “The Rules of Attraction” then you begin to understand how terrible “Lunar Park” is).

Take a gander at these two sophomoric passages of piss-poor writing:

“Yo?” I said, checking the incoming number.

“It’s me.” It was Jay but I could barely hear him.

“Where are you?” I whined. “Jesus, Jay, you are one lost bastard.”

“What do you mean, where am I?” he asked.

“You sound like you’re at some kind of party.” I paused. “Don’t tell me that many people showed up at your goddamn reading.”

“Well, open the door and you’ll see where I am” was his reply.

“Open which door?”

“The one you’re behind, moron.”

“Oh.” I turned to Aimee. “It’s the Jayster.”

“Why don’t you just let me out first,” Aimee suggested, hurrying toward the mirror to make sure everything was in place.

And this gem:

“Well, you should by now,” I said encouragingly, but also confused about why a girl so proud of having learned the alphabet should be reading “Lord of the Flies.”

“I know the alphabet,” she stated proudly, “A B C D E F –“

“Honey, Bret has a big headache. I’m gonna take your word on this one.”

“—G H I J K L M N –“

“You can identify the sounds letters make. Sweetie, that’s really excellent, Jayne?”

“—O P Q R S T U V –“

“Jayne, would you please give her a sugar-free doughnut or something?” I touched my head to indicate migraine approaching. “Really.”

“And I know what a rhombus is!” Sarah shouted gleefully.

One wonders if Ellis was buying the adverbs by the bushel.

This is just bad writing. It is ponderous, choppy, and bloated with excessive baggage. But even worse, these passages are parts of longer scenes that neither reveal character nor propel the plot. They’re just there – doing nothing. But their greatest sin may be that they’re not even interesting. Unfortunately, “Lunar Park” is teaming with passages like these.

Lunar Park” is the work of a desperate writer. It’s a fictionalized autobiography about Bret Easton Ellis. But this Ellis married a famous actress after having an illegitimate son with her. They have moved to the Connecticut suburbs with her step-daughter and try to live happily ever after. But this is Bret Easton Ellis – so his character is a drug addled, self-centered asshole without a single redeeming feature.

The self-parody is amusing for the first 40 pages and there’s hope that Ellis might finally have pulled off his first successful book since “Less Than Zero.”

But alas.

The novel descends – quite rapidly – into a ridiculously awful horror novel. The plot is so convoluted and slap-dash that it would be too tedious to outline here. Suffice to say it includes the ghost of Ellis’ estranged father, a possessed stuff bird (who at one point crawls into a pet dog’s ass), several missing boys, and Ellis’ Patrick Bateman character (from his most notorious novel “American Psycho”) come to life.

If this sounds interesting – don’t be fooled, because the plot matters little. None of it comes together in any coherent conclusion and no explanation is offered for any of the bizarre occurrences.

It’s been clear for sometime now that Ellis – once the literary darling of New York – has more in common with Stephen King than with Norman Mailer. Lunar Park” and “American Psycho” are both horror novels. But unlike King – who, ironically, is despised by the literati – Ellis struggles with character. King is a master of placing regular people in extraordinary situations. His characters feel real and readers relate to them.

Ellis’ characters, on the other hand, are all vapid, self-obsessed yuppies. It’s like being stuck in a room full of martini-fueled Wall Street stockbrokers who are all Yankee fans.

I have a theory about Ellis. He was a one book author. “Less Than Zero,” published while he was still a college student in 1985, became a best-seller for its flat style of writing and realistic portrayal of nihilistic college students. He was dubbed the voice of Generation X.

That’s a lot of fame and pressure on a 21-year-old writer. He’s been struggling to keep up ever since.

Like most young people thrust into the spotlight at a young age – he fell to drinking and drugging. He published “The Rules of Attraction” in 1987 and it pushed boundaries by portraying his characters as sexual ambiguous and self-destructive. But the novel was horrible – and ultimately pointless.

In an act of desperation, Ellis wrote “American Psycho” in 1991. The novel was an intimate look at psychopathic serial killer and featured graphic murders – many of them of young women. The original publisher dropped it in protest – but the controversy only fueled sales. But the book was ultimately a carnival sideshow attraction – borderline pornography. You get the feeling that only reason it was written was to save Ellis’ sagging literary career and garner him attention.

His two other books “The Informers,” a short story collection published in 1994, and “Glamorama” (1998) barely caused ripples. And it should be noted that most of the short stories in “The Informers” were written by Ellis when he was still in college.

So what’s a poor, attention-whore of a writer to do? Well, why not return to graphic murders and mayhem? It worked so well with “American Psycho.” Enter “Lunar Park” in 2005. As I mentioned already – it even features the main character, Patrick Bateman, from “American Psycho.”

But I suppose we shouldn’t blame Ellis. He’s just trying to hawk badly written books. We should blame his enablers in the literati. The New York Times called “Lunar Park” “Addictive…Sublime…Exquisite…” and made it a notable book of the year. The New Yorker called it “A rhapsody of grief and reconciliation.”

One wonders what novel they were reading. If you really want to read Ellis – go buy “Less Than Zero” and read that again. It’s not a bad book.

Everything since?

Less than good.

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