28 September 2009

Banned Books Challenge Day 28/American Psycho

I've not done so well on this challenge the major problem being I was out of town for most of two weekends (which is usually when I get most of my weekly reading done) and I was knitting a cardigan (stay tuned for a knitting post). So I haven't read nearly as much for this challenge as I should have. I know that I do have two days left in the challenge....but my books are pretty thick and I have to work. Boo. So I have only hours left to read nearly 700 pages (The Satanic Verses and The Naked and the Dead) by the end of September. Oy.

Day 28: I'm having a little trouble with The Naked and the Dead for some reason; it's not holding my interest which is surprising to me because it feels a little like Catch-22 (a book I love) but in a journalistic style. Maybe it's the ironic voice that I miss. In any case, I'll probably work on The Satanic Verses the rest of the month; although the writing is not nearly as linear I love Rushdie's prose and imagery.

From this point in my post, I will be reviewing American Psycho and I will have to drop some spoilers in order to adequately process my thoughts about this book. Also, I'm probably going to swear more than normal. If you really plan to read this novel at a later date and are spoiler-sensitive I'd suggest not reading the rest of this post; to review this in a one-liner, Ellis's book has really messed up subject manner but an interesting style and probably shouldn't be read by the faint-hearted.

I finished American Psycho yesterday.

Patrick Bateman is one sick fuck and that's an understatement. I knew that before starting the novel and it still gave me pause. The level of violence and objectification perpetrated on women in general over the course of the novel is nauseating (Bateman does nasty things to a few men, too, but the overwhelming majority of victims are women). Leading up to the first major sex/rape/murder scene, Ellis drops only a few hints as to his main character's extra-curricular activities. A mention of an axe or mabye a bloody coat or a random line about someone's head in a freezer. It's enough to let the reader know something is very wrong with Bateman but really doesn't prepare one for the level of brutality of the scene...hmmm...brutality isn't quite the right word, neither is psychotic...it's really a sadistic savagery. That sounds like a bad line from a pulp novel. Take the Marquis du Sade and ratchet it up about a 1000 times, throw in a lot of drugs, and add some cannibalism. Then that's about right for that first scene. Hannibal Lecter was a gourmand but Bateman is like a coked-up hyena.

After about three seriously fucked up scenes Ellis eases up on the specific description of the murders. After that Bateman will refer to a girl's hands, or brain, or whatever-body-part he's got decorating his apartment - the reader is no longer really party to the act itself (which is fine because I'd more or less started skimming the graphic scenes). The change in description got me to thinking, because I watch a lot of Criminal Minds, about why Ellis had a main character who was not just killing but torturing and eating his victims as opposed to the violence itself (over kill). Patrick Bateman has a lot of rage (again, understatement) which is directed for the most part at women (but only some women because some of his close female acquaintences remain unscathed) and at non-white/non-yuppie members of society but I think that Bateman also victimizes those who objectify him.

This is not a completely thought-out theory. I feel that the emphasis on things - labels, styles, colors, fashion houses, brands, gyms, etc. - creates a shell around Bateman. He's bat-shit psychotic on the inside but on the outside he's Richie Rich. People seem to want to be his friend/want him for his name, money, family, where he went to college but in reality none of them can remember who the hell he is. The bums and ethnic-minority business owners only want his money because he's another rich guy. He's frequently called by someone else's name and this point was driven home near the end of the novel (major SPOILER approaching). After a police chase (because Bateman really lost it and shot a bum while a squad car was passing) Bateman makes a phone call to a friend (lawyer?) and confesses everything to the man's voicemail....but nothing happens, no one comes to arrest Bateman; when Bateman later mentions the lengthy voicemail to the recipient the man believes Bateman was someone else, accusing Bateman of all those murders as some sort of joke. So Ellis demonstrates that Bateman isn't real, he's not authentic, no one is authentic because all the depraved acts committed by Bateman really don't matter and no one really seems to care. At all. Bateman's anger at being marginalized within his own tribe finds an outlet in extreme violence but even a confession fails to make those around him see him and so the cycle continues. I think seeing Bateman as himself is what saves Bateman's secretary, Jean, from becoming one of his victims when she shows that she thinks there's a real person inside Bateman - one who is considerate of others and kind, even though the readers know otherwise in the extreme - and never mistakes him for another cookie-cutter yuppie in a designer wool suit; she gives him some sort of identity.

This is a pretty rambling analysis/review (sorry) of a book that uses a lot of elements to tell a single story. The fastidious descriptions of what each character is wearing at each point in the novel, down to the dollar amount or the meals eaten and paid for or the obsession with stuff in general probably says more about what was going on in the book but I'm having trouble shaking the violence out of my head (which was probably the point of all the violence, but still). I did like the novel but Ellis made my hair stand on end and freaked me out to the point that I had to read about Harold Bloom's Falstaff/Hamlet obsession in order to go to sleep. American Psycho was made into a movie and as sick as this sounds I really want to see what the filmmakers did; this book done straight is easily an NC-17-level film so I want to see how it was adapted.


  1. The problem is that both Catch-22 and The Naked and the Dead rely on broad strawmen to characterize the composition of America and the motives of the military. It's just that Heller was self-aware enough to realize how leaden these strawmen were and how many exceptions there are to them that it renders false the idea that they're wholly representative of America, and thus he made his cartoonish and comical, riffing off the comedy to make the point in the same way without trying to seem like an authoritative tapestry of America. Mailer's self-absorbed and frankly arrogant narrative has no such doubts and no reason to run off to comedy. In fact, it's so self-serious that I can't remember a single joke in there. And the whole process is clumsy and overwrought, not to mention obvious. Ahhh, yes, the autarkic General who offers a long disquisition about how America is really little different from fascism is himself a bit of a tyrant—and a repressed homosexual! If only the book were 100 pages longer: we could have met a hooker who really had a heart of gold.

  2. I have not read American Psycho but I own the movie and love it. Christian Bale is perfect in the movie.

  3. Thanks Mobute - I've only managed about 70 pages of The Naked and The Dead but it is deadly serious about it's subject. The attitude doesn't wear as well on an audience used to reporters embedded with military units.

  4. I MUST read American Psycho! I saw the movie and based on your review, the book is more violent. Don't get me wrong...the movie is violent, but it was rated R so... Like Ryan said, Bale was great in it. Let's face it, he's great in everything...IMO. I want to read the book to see if I can reconcile some questions with the movie. Let us know when you watch the movie so we can see what you thought. =o)