Over the Summer I got into reading a lot of post-modern novels. One that really made an impact on me was American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. As summarized by Wikipedia:
American Psycho is a psychological thriller and satirical novel by Bret Easton Ellis, published in 1991. The story is told in the first person by the protagonist, serial killer and Manhattan businessman Patrick Bateman. The book’s graphic violence and sexual content generated a great deal of controversy before and after publication. A film adaptation starring Christian Bale was released in 2000 to generally favorable reviews. The Observer notes that while “some countries (find it) so potentially disturbing that it can only be sold shrink-wrapped”, “critics rave about it” and “academics revel in its transgressive and postmodern qualities.”
I had seen previews for the movie on television but had no idea it was based on a novel. Although disturbing in its own right, I’m glad I waited to read it prior to seeing it on screen. The book was incredible and has so much more power then the film, but made me physically sick to read. After one particular instance where Patrick Bateman is brutally torturing and killing hookers my gag reflex started up and I had to go outside for air. At that point I considered putting the book down unfinished. It literally is some of the most disturbing crap I have ever read, but written incredibly well, with a fantastic ending.
Being a big fan of true crime and TV shows like “48 Hours Mystery”, “Criminal Minds”, and the “First 48″ , I always claim I’m watching them as a puzzle solver. Like I get to play detective or note the fascinating ways in which police discover all the clues and catch the perpetrator. Well, as much as that is the case, I honestly have to admit that I get a vicarious thrill from experiencing a brush with intense evil or seeing if the killer gets away with it. A lot of people read true crime for that reason too, and a train wreck can be pretty interesting to watch.
As my father would say,”People watch those shows for their sick jollies”
While reading AP Patrick Bateman’s day-to-day life is repetitive and boring compared to his life of mass murder. He goes to work, smokes, does some coke, goes to this 5 star restaurant to dine, rents some porn, yada yada yada. It’s all rather dull after the fourth or fifth rehash of the same day and he goes into these lengthy descriptions of what people are wearing and how he compares to their status. Once I knew everything there is to know about Bateman (he’s an empty shell of a douchebag yuppie living an extremely superficial life) I naturally found myself eager for something to happen in the story. Eager for someone to be brutally murdered; what it promised when I checked it out.
I found that once the murders started happening I was horribly enlightened with more than I had asked for. I have read books on real life serial killers and terrible war crimes and mob killings,.. but oh. my. god. AP is horrifying. I was disgusted at myself for choosing a book knowingly filled with brutal sexual torture and being overwhelmed with what I had asked for. It really made me question,”Why am I so fascinated with the idea of savagely killing people when I know it is wrong and f*cked up?”
Quite a lot of cognitive dissonance comes along with this novel.
I must commend the author on successfully getting inside the mind of an emotionless psychopath. Although starting slowly, sanity eventually is stripped away and you find yourself thinking like the hilarious, fragile, and soulless Bateman which is probably the most terrifying part of the whole book. When you get as far into a character as Ellis takes us you can’t help but compare his thoughts, emotions, and feelings with your own. I haven’t read a book yet that reads as easily as AP; I basically picked it up and understood it all on a first read. Well, as much as you are meant to understand. Apparently Bateman is not a reliable narrator and tends to remember thing incorrectly, exaggerate, hallucinate, and lie to himself and others. It’s difficult to tell what is really going on in his head and the world around him, which I found really fascinating instead of annoying (as with other post-modern lit I’ve read).
Luckily the ending helped me rationalize a bit of the parts that scarred me for life, and kind of saved the book for me. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who is thinking of tackling this book, but let me just say it’s not what you expect but everything that needs to be said. After I almost quit halfway through I am glad I stuck around to read,”THIS IS NOT AN EXIT” on the last page.
If you don’t think you have the stomach for it the movie is a good sampling of the big satirical points made in the book. Also Christian Bale gives a freaking amazing performance as our serial killer anti-hero.