Patrick Bateman moves among the young and trendy in 1980s Manhattan. Young, handsome, and well educated, Bateman earns his fortune on Wall Street by day, while spending his nights in ways we cannot begin to fathom. Expressing his true self through torture and murder, Bateman prefigures an apocalyptic horror that no society could bear to confront.
So, what happens, per usual, when a twenty-six year old American male finishes American Psycho, puts the book down, and finally has room enough to breathe?
Typically, like most things, there are three verifiable fields of order. The first is the furthest away from my own opinion. These people are horrified, sickened by the buckets of misogyny, racism, sex, and overall bloodlust found in the book. They completely miss the point, and/or understand the point, but ultimately can't register it in any fruitful way when they read Ellis' prose. These people are also obliterated by the wall-to-wall descriptions of clothing, luxury, etc., and quickly miss the point that Ellis is Bateman. He truly is the torturer. And he digs and he digs until you're dismantled by the superficiality of the American metropolitan madhouse, and to the point where you become sick of it. They miss the point entirely, don't realize that their frustration is indeed wanted, and a necessary annoyance to help propel Ellis' delirium of luxurious consumption.
The second group loves this book, will not stop talking about it to their family, friends, random people on the street, and love to quote it constantly, to laugh out loud like they've inherited all of the book's wit. These people think the book is a laugh riot and totally forget the other part of the book, as if the brutality in American Psycho can never be looked at in literal terms, and often, horrifically.
I think I'm somewhere in between. I think it's hard not to be.
American Psycho is written with an intense eloquence you rarely see nowadays. Dialogue sparkles. Patrick Bateman's maddening world of delusions and insanity hit like bricks, whenever Ellis allows us a temporary view into his head. The scenes of horror--that we see coming from miles away--crazily lure us into real disgust, into utter contempt for all of the things a single human being is capable of. In a way, the evolution of the story, the residual of past chapters, act like the tide, and more and more, we sense it, see the carnage coming, but characters, love (?) interests, keep us attentive, awake, and never stammering into the visceral. The key, and rather brilliantly, is for the reader to read the book at break-neck speed. Ellis has command, and urges us to read at a pace where worlds eventually dissolve, and our mental capacities for the extraordinary, suddenly, becomes not only possible, but expected.
Irony, satire, comedy, horror . . . American Psycho continues to push the envelope to this day. So really, what are the reasons, if any, that I didn't outright fall in love with this book? For one, it's way too cynical. There's virtually no light at the end of this tunnel. Ellis' prose, although visually arresting and even eloquent, trembles all the way through, and trembles in a way where everything this book contains essentially becomes stale, too ironical for its own good, and a goldmine of fast, thrifty dialogue with no real essence other than to cause hysteria and outrage. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many books, many authors, like Ellis himself, thrive on a single idea. That's incredibly fine, but for me, I did want more. And even when Bateman lingered very near humanity, or love, it still wasn't enough. In a way, I have a hard time believing that narcissism of this level could ever truly exist, anywhere. I don't know why that is. But it's the author's job to convince me.
A good to great book that should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in writing natural dialogue. A good book that I will gladly never read again, at least in its entirety. Oh, and is it just me, or am I right in thinking the character Luis is really Ellis, and Patrick Bateman is a real person, who one time or another denied Ellis the love he so desperately sought from him? If so. This book probably just took on a whole new level of hilarity.
I’ve just come back from dinner at L’Auberge, where I had free-range squid topped with ceviche and grape jelly. Tompkins (or someone who looked remarkably like Tompkins but could have been Jenkins) had apricots and lamb in a balsamic vinegar reduction topped with juniper berries and an olive. She was wearing 100% worsted wool pencil skirt and a white silk blouse (all Ralph Lauren) and 6.5″ stiletto alligator leather heels from Christian Louboutin. I’ve got reservations for Bon Temps tomorrow, but the fact that I got reservations makes me think I shouldn’t eat there. I might use my Samsung Galaxy S III with a 4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED (1280×720) display and 4GLTE technology to cancel. I might be able to get into Doria using Tompkin’s name (if that was Tompkins … it could have also been Jensen or Jenkins). But first I’ve got to return my videos.
Now insert 14 paragraphs describing the most vile, depraved, stomach-turning, repulsive, sick-making, stomach-heaving sicko sex and violence that you can imagine and you’ve pretty much gotten the gist of American Psycho.
To say this book had some sick stuff in it is an understatement. I was prepared for that (or thought I was—Bret Easton Ellis has a very very sick mind). What I didn’t expect was the humor. (The “free-range squid” quote is direct from the book—despite the almost mind-numbing descriptions of what everyone is wearing and eating, you can’t skim or you’ll miss some sly wit.) The running joke about how everyone mixes up the identities of everyone else in their social circle was another one that amused me. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
This is a book about a young man (Patrick Bateman—the titular psycho) who works on 1980s-era Wall Street and personifies the Yuppie lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, brand-name clothing, dinners at the latest, trendiest restaurants, clubbing and cocaine. Unlike his contemporaries, Bateman also has another hobby—torture and murder, which he carries out with a chilling nonchalance. And, like everything else in his shallow empty life devoid of any human emotions or connections, he describes it in dispassionate detail. To Patrick, the question of how and when to wear a pocket square and how and where to dispose of the corpse of a decapitated prostitute are given the same attention (with perhaps a bit more passion placed on the pocket square issue). In short, Bateman is a sick fuck. Yet the “joke” of the book is that no one (save for his victims) takes him or his occasional shocking statements (“I’d like to see a woman’s head on a stick”) seriously.
I’m sure (hope? pray?) that Easton Ellis meant this book as a savage indictment/satire of Yuppie culture in Manhattan at a specific place and time. It’s probably why the book is on the list of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die. But if you’re going to skip one of those 1001 books, this might a good one. Although it has its moments and it makes it points, it is truly disturbing and I’d have to agree with Stephen King’s opinion on this one:
Do I think that all books and all ideas should be allowed in school libraries? I do not. Schools are, after all, a “managed” marketplace. Books like “Fanny Hill” and Brett Easton Ellis’ gruesome “American Psycho” have a right to be read by people who want to read them, but they don’t belong in the libraries of tax-supported American middle schools.
In other words, proceed with extreme caution.
I don't know where it comes from, but this book also includes little gems that periodically made me laugh out loud. For example, I liked this...
"Blitzen was a reindeer"
"The only Jewish one," Peterson reminds us.
And there was this...
"...McDermott, in a state of total frustration, asked the girls if they knew the names of any of the nine planets. Libby and Caron guessed the moon. Daisy wasn't sure but she actually guessed...Comet. Daisy thought that Comet was a planet. Dumbfounded, McDermott, Taylor and I all assured her that it was."
Where does the author come up with this stuff?
Another thing that made me laugh about this novel was Patrick Bateman's preoccupation with the newest, most chic material items of his time. This book was first published in 1991. As I read this novel in 2014, I smile to myself at how out of vogue and retro all of his possessions seem now. In reality, not that much time has gone by. That says something profound about the things he valued most at that time.
There was one chapter of a ménage a trois between Patrick Bateman and two women. So much was going on with so many orifices and things going into the various orifices that I could not imagine the configuration of all of these individuals (nor did I want to!). I read that chapter and moved on to the next one.
[American Psycho] is a book that takes other fiction such as [A Clockwork Orange] or [Trainspotting] to the "nth degree". It surpasses them in its ability to be offensive. The issue is that it is very well written and is very readable. Go figure!
I think this book can best be described as "transgressive" fiction, a term which wikipedia defines as "a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual or illicit ways...Unbound by usual restrictions of taste and literary convention, its proponents claim that transgressive fiction is capable of pungent social commentary."
This is true for [American Psycho] which makes quite a statement about materialism, class, and educational status. Is it worthwhile reading? I'd say definitely yes.
What makes the book so readable:
1. shock value
2. the evil human side of us
3. meter - the same sort of rhythm that Chuck Palahniuk uses in his novels
4. the ambiguous ending - THIS IS NOT AN EXIT
5. the tirade against yuppies
One thing I can warn is for NO ONE to pick up this book casually, expecting simply a good read. This is a book that one experiences viscerally as well as mentally. If you think you can handle this while be offended along the way, then go select this book to read.
There are so many other fabulous pleasures in this book, though... the chapter about Phil Collins is one of the greatest satires I've ever read. A four hour conversation on a three way phone about where to go to dinner that night? Brilliant.
To me, this book feels like an answer to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and similar stories. Where such classic morality tales imagine humans to have a dual nature, with good and evil always battling for dominance, in Patrick Bateman there is no duality -- he's pure Bateman, all the way through. He doesn't become a different person to commit his crimes -- his crimes are a natural extension of the perfect superficiality and empty striving his society has demanded of him.
A couple of weeks later I got hold of the book, read it, and everything slowly became clear.
To start with I was just irritated by the profusion of italicised text. I 'got' the endless schedules of designer clothing and accessories. They went on a long time but fine, okay, he's being ironic.
Then I got to the first 'Girls' chapter (at first I assumed it was the only 'Girls' chapter, but oh no no no); I was reading it in a branch of Costa Coffee in the middle of a shopping centre. Partway through I had to stop reading and it was like pulling myself up from the bottom of a swamp. Looking up I found myself looking directly at an old dear on the next table, and I immediately thought 'OMG, you would not believe what I've just been reading......'.
A couple of nights later I found I couldn't sleep at all. Images from this book were imprinted on my brain and I couldn't shake them loose. The chapter on Bethany was the worst, but there were others. The book stirred fears in me I didn't even know were there; no kidding, it messed seriously with my head.
This is no-holds-barred horror that makes Stephen King look like a purveyor of amusing tales about overly large spiders. It really really is not for the faint-hearted.
Truly excellent satire. The rest of his stuff is so so. Was cocaine involved in the writing?
I liked the way Ellis always had them confusing people with each other and calling each other the wrong names. It put emphasis on how much they were all alike (dressed alike, spoke alike, went to the same places) and also made it more shocking that Bateman could seem so much like them but in reality be so completely different (and no one noticed).
In a previous review for a Johnson book, I stated that, frustratingly, there are only a few talented writers living today. Of course that is not true, what I was trying to say is that only a few writers living today "reach" me or "touch" me in a certain way. There are many talented writers living today, Vollmann, Pynchon, Eggers being a few. And I would safely place Ellis in this category as well.
Ellis pretty much gives a big old "screw you" to American Capitalism and life in the late 80s. It is a very interesting take on corporate America and how greed and consumerism can create this overall monster that consumes everything...including people (both literally and figuratively in the case of Patrick Bateman).
The first third of the book moves pretty slowly, but picks up steam as Bateman continues to lose his grip on reality. There are some pretty graphic and disgusting scenes that take place...so it will please horror nuts (like me). But, I think the disgusting scenes are a perfect metaphor for the horrible things that happen in the real world. The overall negative tone of the book should make people question humanity and certain systems like Capitalism. Is Bateman correct in assuming that things can not change in the world and that we are constantly stuck in its overall systems..."This is not an exit?"
It's rather unlike any book you're ever going to read: it's populated with a group of characters that, for any number of reasons, are greatly dislikable; it features details and minutiae that border on soporific; and there is little plot that isn't driven by the insane, horrific ravages of our psychopathic narrator, Patrick Bateman.
Granted, it's a testament to Ellis's focus that the acts Bateman perpetrates -- in shockingly graphic detail, doing things that should probably never even be imagined much less written down -- are so quickly dulled by the documentary-style listing of the designers of the clothes of his compatriots. But what's frustrating about this book is that, amidst the punctuations of gory violence, there is little progression or development of plot, just a not-so-subtle indictment of the repetitive blandness of yuppie culture.
It's only after most of the novel has taken place that both the reader and Bateman himself begin to question his mental state, and one can't help but wonder if it's too late. Of course, if that total immersion -- and the subsequent surrender of all sense of sanity and interest -- is the point, then Ellis has certainly succeeded.
I'm just not convinced that this is as much an effective satire as it is a graphic and startling indictment of consumer culture and the potential consequences of alienation. And I'm not convinced it's that so much as it's the tale of a truly crazy man who acts on his grotesque fantasies in order to escape the boredom of his life.
American Psycho tries to be all of these and I don't quite think it hits all those marks -- but one thing is for sure: this is one novel that will leave an indelible mark on you for a very long time.
What is interesting to me about the book is something that was lost on me when I first read it, and only became notable to me years later. I highlighted it, because it seemed important, but it was only later that I realized why it was important.
"...there is an idea of Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed. Yet I am blameless. Each model of human behavior must be assumed to have some validity. Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do? My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this—and I have, countless times, in just about every act I’ve committed—and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be extracted from my telling. There has been no reason for me to tell you any of this. This confession has meant nothing …. "
I think that Patrick Bateman was Ellis's idea of what a Philosophical Zombie would actually be like - or, to put it into more mystical terms - Bateman is a human being without a soul. Currently there is a debate about qualia, about whether or not "what it's like"-ness is reducible to the natural processes of our physical bodies or if we need to appeal to something non-physical to account for subjective experience. The idea, I believe first conceived by Kripke but utilized in arguments by David Chalmers, is that it is possible for a human being to exist and behave like any other human being, but completely lack subjective experience.
I take Patrick Bateman to be both a critique and a conception of P-Zombie. On the one hand, his entire existence is surface and external. He does not have an inner life, he fixates on external details like clothes, appearance, style, popularity, and cannot find any kind of personal judgments of his own. He thinks in terms of what is popular and fashionable, but does not bring any opinion of his own to the table. In this sense, he is a P-Zombie in Chalmer's conception, he behaves just like us, but he's dark inside. He is not really there.
On the other hand, he's a sadistic mass-murdering cannibal and rapist. This is not typical among me and those that I know, but your experience may vary. In this sense, I think he's a critique of Chalmer's conception, he shows that somebody with no inner subjective experience would be unable to behave like a human being. He would become cruel and bestial because he would just be reacting mechanically to stimuli: he would fall back on humanity's baser instincts of hunger, sex, and violence (read the book and ask yourself what percentage of the book is about restaurants, physical attractiveness and rape, and murder and torture. It has to be at least 85%).
I think that Bateman is meant to be an idea of a human being without a soul, but Ellis does not agree that such a person would behave like anyone else. I am ignoring for the time the critique of 1980s Yuppie culture because I am not that interested in a critique of 1980s Yuppie culture. It is this idea of a dark-inside man that I think is interesting, and it's one that makes me think I'll give this book another read sometime soon.
When the story starts, we're already thrust into his world. Wall Street, shmoozing over dinners and drinks, shallow shells comparing business cards and one-upping each other over who has the best stereo. His world borders on boring with its wealthy mundaeity. But this is told to the reader purposefully, deliberately. It's a facade, and the real world begins to crack and you suddenly find yourself recoiling at what's beneath.
Even though Bateman is 26 when we join him at the beginning of the book, this life of his has been going on in this way for some time. It's truly frightening and it makes you afraid for every person that he interacts with, like something could happen at any moment. This purely fearful feeling drives the first part of the novel, as Bret Easton Ellis doesn't indulge in the constant urge to show a lot of gore so much as to hint at it and allude to it, giving you the sense of death always lurking. When he does finally indulge in gore, it reaches a level of horror worthy of the oft-casually used word "psycho."
Perhaps more subtle but no less terrible is this rising sense that everyone around Patrick is also crazy. This world of Wall St. and high rollers is foreign to me, but it feels so vivid and authentic. The psychosis and sociopathy seems so saturate everything. Plus, since it's not a "cop drama" and there seems to be no good guys consistently throughout (and thus nobody to bring Patrick to justice), there's a dark void while reading it where normally would be a sense of hope. I don't want to give anything away that you wouldn't see on a dust jacket, though.
Overall I was surprised by all the nuance and subtlety, and the language draws you in. I found myself sympathizing with the most unsympathetic people ever. I was repulsed and drawn at the same time, it fascinated and horrified me the entire way.
I find Ellis' writing way too factual, and it seems like you must have to entirely put away your imagination to read this book, or else you will get frustrated by the over-descriptive passages. Which really isn't my cup of tea--although, I'll grant that it takes a lot for an author to put in just the right amount of detail and mystery, especially when writing a book about torture, murder and rape.
The main thing I take away from this book, though, comes from the very last page--in fact, the very last chapter, when Bateman is sitting down at the bar and gives his last words. And it's this: In this day and age, Bateman could be ANYONE. This book is very fitting when you look back on the slew of serial killers that came in the few decades before it: insane people who wore the masks of sanity daily, but committed crimes in very, very unusual ways. Bateman seems to not only warn against serial killers, though; if he was only thinking of these murders in his head, as some propose, who is to say he--or someone like him, or someone who may not even seem to be like him on the outside--is not potentially dangerous as an eventual, elevated-heat-of-the-moment murderer?
Started off grim, got progressively worse, before culminating in a massive pile of tripe.
Won't be reading him again in ahurry.
And what a fantastic ride it is.
The best part of the novel is the journey that Ellis takes his reader through to connect with Bateman's psychosis. Ellis follows a boring, detailed chapter on Phil Collin's music, for example, with an equally detailed chapter about a mutilation. He makes Patrick as involved with his morning routine as he is with his murderous episodes. Both share an equal importance in Bateman's world- a brilliant and accurate portrayal of the mind of a sociopath. They have the same emotional reaction to the mundane as they do to the gruesome- none.
Enjoying the book for the second time, the journey into Bateman's psychosis was more of a familiar descent rather than a disorienting plunge. However, after reading the book for long stretches, it still takes a moment to reconnect with the world. What an awesome author that can affect his reader in that way.
THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.
So just what does make this such an amazing and gripping book?
First off, its not the violence - you need to have an element of suspense or fear to make literary violence thrilling in any way - in short you have to care. Here there is a cold, mechanical, pointlessness to it all. Eventually even the protagonist, Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman, fails to get any gratification from killing.
The book is first person account in the words of the psychopath Bateman, with the factual ambiguities that insanity brings. Events are ambigous or contradict each other and there are some tangential moments of complete surreal fantasy. You are never quite sure what is real and what is a fabrication of Bateman's mind - that uncertainty just kind of draws you in.
The joy of the book for me was twofold; there is the first person account of insanity, varying from the amusing to the downright sickening, but ultimately fascinating. Even better is the viscious stab the book makes at modern materialism and the pointless pursuit of status. Bateman and his peers are for the main, designer-suited yuppie stereotypes that I could not help but enjoy seeing getting character-assassinated here. Parts of the book are really very funny, very black, comedy.
If I had any problem with the book, the description of the violence is really sometimes just too much, especially the nasty mysogynistic sexual stuff. I think the book would have worked just as well without much of the graphic horror.
Anyway, maybe not for the prudish or faint hearted, but you'd be missing out on an amazing book!
American Psycho isn't for the faint of heart or the squeamish. The misogyny, racism and increasing brutality become increasingly disturbing as the book goes on. The novel does raise the interesting question of how much of what we show people is real versus how much we are really hiding. Patrick Bateman covers himself in a minute expertise of musical pop culture, couture clothing and light banter to deflect the fact that on the inside he is a depraved monster. There are no easy answers as the reader must determine how much of Patrick's life, public and private are real and how much is imagination.
This is not an easy book to read, nor should it be; it is a blindingly strong statement about the American culture's insensitivity to suffering and the promoted worthlessness of human life. Most find it overly graphic and patently disturbing. This book chronicles a man who has everything, and has reached the point where his only pleasure stems from taking away what others have, even to the point where their lives become just another of those possessions. While many are quick to focus on the explicit gore in the novel-- which is only natural, considering the impression it leaves on the reader's mind-- this book has a great deal more to it. The social critique speaks for itself, but perhaps it takes a certain type of person to see the (jet) black comedy in plotting to kill a man for having an elegant business card.
Bateman puts just as much energy into describing his lifestyle as he does to his murders; the insights he offers into this peculiarly American culture are fascinating. This is a gripping and disturbing book, even if it isn't for the squeamish.
This is absolutely not the sort of book that stands up to multiple readings. I remember being blown away by this book in the early '90s. And this re-reading was a mixture of tedium, disgust tossed in with the roller coaster ride that I recall from back then. So the 4 stars here are a compromise between the 5 I would have given then and 3 that was my first impulse this time.
Having said that, Patrick Bateman is a character that gets seared into your brain, the only analog I can think of being Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Is he hallucinating? Did he actually slaughter everyone he said he did? You don't know. But the off-balance way multi-page long discourses on Whitney Houston, stereo equipment, Genesis, etc., are worked into the plot gives the whole work a sort of crazy realism. To say nothing of the endless descriptions of '80s fashion, housewares and the chicest of restaurants...worked into what may be the goriest, nastiest, foulest descriptions of murders you'll ever read in fiction.