Author Bret Easton Ellis: An Artist in Motion

When American Psycho was first released in 1991, to a tumultuous frenzy of readers both balking and rejoicing at the celebration of violence and rage in one of Ellis’s most classic work, the American public was exposed to an otherwise modestly-known Los Angeles author with a unique style and epicly Dickensian wit. His penchant for anti-materialism and lamentation for America’s upper class had lead some to comment that he was becoming a simple, one-track author. His two previous works, Less than Zero (1985) and The Rules of Attraction (1987), were both relatively non-assuming interior analyses of the rich, college-age American, and so it was a surprise to some critics that, in Psycho, Ellis’s characters had not only grown up, they had shed their introversions in favor of sweeping social archetypes. But what did this represent for Ellis’s development? Where has he gone since then? And where will he be going in the future?

Ellis’s ability to evolve as a writer is astounding. Just when it seems he is becoming bogged down in the youth-drugs-sex-money culture of Los Angeles, American Psycho comes out and everything changes. Instead of merely recognizing the existence of superficiality in high society, as with his Los Angeles works, Psycho explores what it means in terms of us, as people. He shows us what happens to the soul of a man when the weight of appearances and greed deplete him of all emotion. His Patrick Batement character, immortalized by Christian Bale’s stellar performance in the 2000 movie adaptation of Psycho, thus beomes a figure for us, for all the darkness that grows inside us when our environment becomes as passive-oppressive as that of Ellis’s New York.

And then Ellis surprises us again. Three years after Psycho comes The Informers, a short-story collection whose chapters are joined only by loose associations of the same sexual partners and same drug dealers. The collection itself bears summary of Ellis’s own writing career and hints at its direction. Its first eight or nine stories (of thirteen) are relatively sane dialogues between the affectors and the affectees of the LA drug culture, much like his early novels. Yet, as the work moves on, the violence, peripheral at best in the introductory stories, builds until the later storylines become blatant tales of violent sex and drug binging culminating in the graphic murder of a pre-teen boy tied up in a bathtub, a reflection of the Los Angeles-New York transition from Attraction to Psycho. The final story in the collection, At the Zoo with Bruce, gives a tiny hint at the direction of Ellis’s career, elements of the supernatural suddenly appearing as a recurring Informers character, Bruce, confesses to an affectee that he is an extraterrestrial sent to gather data on humanity for his anonymous alien overlords. Weird, huh?

Then Glamorama comes out, and though it is an acclaimed bestseller, it seems almost to represent a stumbling block in Ellis’s development, and thus, his longevity. Its surface is another New York book about the obscenly wealthy indulging in drug binges and sexual Olympics, but the plot steadily becomes more surreal, to an extent eventually greater even than that of American Psycho. So, rather than an indulgence in themes already explored in Psycho, Glamorama simply represents the next developmental bridge into Ellis’s latest novel, Lunar Park.

Lunar Park, released this year to mixed reviews (personally, I liked it), is the culminating creative effort of Ellis’s development as a riter. From a purely denotative standpoint, Lunar Park’s plot alone seperates it from Ellis’s previous works. The novel’s protagonist, a young author named Bret Easton Ellis, finds that his career has peaked in college with American Psycho, and as such, he embarks upon a drugs-and-alcohol binge paralleled only by those of his previous characters. The novel gradually evolves into a supernatural homage to Stephen King, wrapped up in a father-son plot that mirrors Ellis’s own, abused childhood at the hands of his alcoholic father.

Between its affections for King and its clear references to Ellis’s upbringing, Lunar Park takes us to parts of our lives that have been mentioned only in passing in his earlier works: childhood, and middle age. As Ellis ages, so too do his characters. His writing in Lunar has transitioned from the bitingly commentative to the slightly-abandoned feeling of regret and longing for return to youth that accompanies pretty much all of us in our adulthood. But what does this mean for Ellis’s career? If we can expect Ellis’s maturity as a writer to evolve with his age, then will his future books return to their introspective roots, only this time, with enough of the seasoning of age to turn scathing social criticism into the stuff of a classic? We can only wait for his next release, but if Lunar Park is any indication of the direction Ellis is taking, I would bet that his future works will come to be counterpoints, almost remorseful, of the bitter anger and violence of the works of his youth.

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