The rules of attraction (Bret Easton Ellis, 1987)


The rules of attraction, by Bret Easton Ellis (1987).

Score: Ruthless and delightful.

What American psycho was to yuppies and Glamorama was to models The rules of attraction is to rich and spoiled college students. In case the news hasn’t reached you yet, yes, Ellis has made a career out of laughing at rich and shallow people. No, you’re not supposed to like the characters. Yes, they’re petty and obnoxious. Now that we have gotten over this point in our lives as readers, we can move on and examine the book.

In the same almost plotless style of his other books, The rules of attraction follows the monotonous and immoderate lives of Sean Bateman (Patrick’s brother), Paul Denton and Lauren Hynde as they major in they’re not sure what Liberal Arts degree in the fictitious college of Camden, New Hampshire. The vignette-like chapters portray wild parties, indifferent sex, drug binges, sleeping through classes and musical tastes as personal statements.

Being Ellis’ second novel, it still feels more costumbrist and straightforward than his later works, but the spark is already there. This doesn’t have the hilariously absurd dialogue American Psycho does, or the surrealist quality and symbolism Ellis unfolded in Glamorama, but the satire is so smooth I could swear I’ve heard classmates of mine have the same conversations and seen them do the same stupid shit. It does have side-spiltting little gems, like Sean thinking to himself “Terror in the Dining Halls. Part IVXVV” or “Actually I thought I was failing four courses. I try to guess which one I’m passing”, Lauren ordering a champagne on the rocks or Sean destroying his vinyl collection out of angst, only after checking carefully that he has copies of everything on tape.

Ellis’ prose does the amazing job of portraying his characters’ misery in the first person while having them remain credible narrators. There is a lyricism that permeates the narration that comes not from the vocabulary (which is quite plain, as suitable for the characters), but from the events, objects and memories that they choose to highlight in the ennui-filled debauchery that are their lives.

All in all I wouldn’t recommend it as an entry point to Ellis’ work, but you’ll like it if you liked his other novels.

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