Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Publisher: Vintage-(1985) Paperback 208 pages
My own brief summary: The book is told through Clay, an affluent young man home from college for winter break. Set during the early 1980's, the backdrop is Los Angeles, Ca. With his return, Clay quickly falls back into the lifestyle he briefly left behind; drugs, promiscuous sex, and unfulfillable relationships.
My review: So from what I understand, the movie is loosely based on the novel, and in fact, for quite sometime after the premiere of the film, Ellis refused to watch it.
Having said that, it was the movie that inspired me to want to read the book. Not really being a product of the early 80's, I definitely wanted to indulge in Ellis's point of view of that era, for if it is one thing that Ellis does right, it's capturing a moment in time... As American Psycho does for NY late 80's, Less Than Zero does for LA, early 80's. But other than the cool music references... This book was not good.
At only 208 pages, the book should be a quick read but it's the tone of the book that made this novel so difficult for me to not only read, but digest.
Narrated by Clay, a rich kid home from college, I guess I expected more from his character. In the beginning, we see that he is disenchanted by his old lifestyle, yet he begrudgingly returns to it without so much as an effort to move beyond it. He does a lot of cocaine, has sex with both men and women, and basically doesn't care about anything or anyone, escaping his own misery by partying and club hopping. Though we see the same behavior from his friends, and we learn from Clay it is this lackluster behavior for life that bothers him, I kind of hoped that Clay would have grown by the end of his winter break and return to College having learned something (though I understand in theory, it is hard to ask this of a young adult).
But my real issues lie in the content. The vibe of the book is one of carelessness and zero self worth (and I can understand why the novel was titled after the Elvis Costello song) . After all, why would one subject themselves to such demeaning behavior such as daily drug use, and unemotional sex. But the behavior of Clay's friends seems to get disturbingly worse as the novel progresses, and it's not simply about being "lost" or unsure of one's path, it's dark... Very dark. I normally don't like to reveal spoilers, but there were certain actions by some of Clay's friends which upset me. From the viewing of a snuff film (which if you don't know, definition is here), to the kidnapping, drugging and consistent rape of a 12 year old girl; things that I could not stomach in the context of their frivolous partying... For me, I couldn't move past this. And what disturbed me even more, was the fact that Clay did nothing about these things. Though he briefly mentions that he is not alright with such behavior, case in point with the 12 year old, he still does not call the police nor remedy the situation in anyway. I kind of felt like he just turned away or closed his eyes to the horrific situations, and for him, that meant disinvolvement. But for me, as the reader, the images stuck with me and I was not okay with it. At all.
Through out the book, Clay shows signs that he could be potentially a good guy and rise above it but that notion is often squashed as Clay holds tight to two words; a billboard that displays "Disappear Here", and it almost becomes his motto, a mechanism that he uses to cope with the actions of those around him, maybe even his own actions or lack of in some cases. In the end, Clay returns to college and references the 80's music group X's song, Los Angeles; for some of you that remember the group, these are hard core lyrics that talk about having to leave LA and hating everything and everyone in it. So I can only presume that Clay never really learned anything, but simply fled back to college... till the next break. And then what?
Though I appreciated what Ellis tried to do in the book, which he wrote when he was 20, Clay just felt too, two dimensional for my liking and his consistent lack of feelings, only made me feel unemotional toward him. When I wanted him to redeem himself, rather than turn a blind eye to some of his friend's disturbing and illegal behavior, he did not. And so for that, I could not root for him, nor understand the purpose to his journey; which I somehow believe is the author's intent.
I have to say, if the film strayed from the book, I could see why. As much as it grieves me to say this, I thought the book was pointless and utterly disappointing. It just wasn't for me. My rating is technically somewhere in between 1 and 2, more like 1 1/2 stars. But I more than struggled, I really just didn't like the story.