American psycho (Bret Easton Ellis, 1991)


American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis (1991).

Score: Much better than I expected.

There’s no fucking way you can take American Psycho at face value. It’s got a surreal quality about it, also it’s narrated by the ultimate unreliable narrator. Let me elaborate.

Patrick Bateman has got it all: he’s an insanely rich yuppie who barely does any work in his dad’s company. He owns an insane quantity of expensive stuff and spends his life in hip restaurants, clubs, and the gym. He also will do anything to make people envious and feel inferior and can get on the verge of tears if he doesn’t get a reservation for a good table at a luxury restaurant. He also happens to be a murderous psycho. Or not. It’s up to you.

***SPOILERS***The surreal quality of the work comes from the fact that none of it can have happened exactly as it’s described. It’s got a dreamy and symbolic quality to it that is what makes it different from other similar efforts, including some from the same author (looking at you, Less than zero). Ellis doesn’t tell you: ‘look at these guys, they all look the fucking same’. He goes on and makes them constantly mistake each other for someone else. Even people who are supposed to be friends. He doesn’t say: ‘these people won’t listen to each other, they just take turns to speak’, he writes several scenes where Bateman confesses his homicidal tendencies and no one gives a fuck.

And at a deeper level, Bateman is the most formidable unreliable narrator I’ve ever read. It starts with the murders. Notice that he doesn’t murder anyone he’s likely to ever see again. He murders several beggars in plain sight and he’s never caught, so he must have hallucinated it all. But then you look at the sex scenes. Gee, maybe he doesn’t have such great sex as he claims, especially the way he describes it. Maybe he’s not that ripped. Maybe he doesn’t own two-hundred-dollar shoehorns. He’s trying to convince you, reader, that he’s a total winner. But through the masterful use of dialogue and narration you can see that he’s not, even though he doesn’t right away tell you. I bet that Luis wasn’t in love with him and definitely he didn’t hug his legs and beg Patrick at that store. I’m sure Evelyn dumped him, like his lawyer mentioned. His obsession with his tan is hilarious, I bet he looks like a fucking orange brick. And of course he didn’t kill anyone, I don’t think he’s even a psycho or had any sort of hallucinations, like he describes. He just knows that a lot of people romanticize psychos and serial killers and wants to impress you, reader. You’re that important! Same thing goes with the music reviews he includes in his narration, I bet he thinks those make him sound smart and he probably copied them from somewhere.

Anyhow, no matter how much you believe his story, the dialogue is completely hilarious and it’s more delirious as the book goes on. I loved stuff like that story about a guy who got kicked out of Harvard for writing a thesis on Babar, Evelyn confusing Silkience with science or the one time when he’s trying to trap a rat and he puts some Brie as bait, decides it’s not sophisticated enough and adds some sun-dried tomato and a sprinkling of dill.

The torture scenes are quite nasty, and that coming from someone who has basically been rendered insensitive by Tumblr gorn, is a big compliment. They made me literally cringe and I had to make an effort to not picture what was actually being described, so if you’re very sensitive you might want to al least skip them.

To wrap it up, it’s a great book. Great exercise in literature, no matter what an uptight classic literature major will tell you.

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