Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: American Psycho & Gift Card Giveaway

Warning: Disturbing and contains some spoilers. 





Publication Date: March, 1991

Publisher: Vintage

Rating: (4/5 Stars)


Patrick Bateman is in his mid-twenties, son of a wealthy family and successful Harvard-educated businessman living the "American Dream" in New York City. He's obsessed with the superficial trappings of wealth and success -- who has the finer business card? How can I get a reservation at Dorsia?

Undeniably narcissistic, he is obsessed with fashion and his appearance. Buff, tanned, and handsome, he has no difficulty attracting beautiful, successful women. Or he'll hire a prostitute in a pinch. But the ordinary experience of sex, along with the other pleasures that fill his over-privileged life -- have long since stopped sparking his interest. He seems perpetually bored and talks about his own life as if it were a film, peppering his narrative with terms like "scene" and "smash cut," as if he were merely an observer of his own existence.



Toward the end of the novel, he puts some of this into words, articulating what we've seen from the first pages:
Everything failed to subdue me. Soon everything seemed dull: another sunrise, the lives of heroes, falling in love, war, the discoveries people made about each other. The only thing that didn't bore me, obviously enough, was how much money Tim Price made, and yet in its obliviousness it did. There wasn't a clear, identifiable emotion within me, except for greed and, possibly, total disgust. I had all the characteristics of a human being -- flesh, blood, skin, hair -- but my  depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning. Something horrible was happening and yet I couldn't figure out why -- I couldn't put my finger on it. The only thing that calmed me was the satisfying sound of ice being dropped into a glass of J&B.
Patrick is shallow, self-obsessed, misogynistic, homophobic, bigoted, and oblivious to the feelings of others. Everything you could ever want in a man, right? Big deal. That describes everyone who travels in his circles. In fact, the men in his crowd are so similar, they keep forgetting each other's names and faces and mistaking guys they meet for other people. Indistinguishable, interchangeable guys in insanely expensive designer clothes. In a sense, this makes them almost invisible.

This invisibility serves Patrick well when pursuing the one thing that sets him apart, the one thing about which he is passionate. Murder. Rape. Torture of humans and animals. Even a little necrophilia. It is disturbingly easy for him to get away from his crimes -- here in the city, no one seems to notice anything.

Yet he wants to be noticed. He is reckless, almost begging to be caught, and he drops blatant references to his hidden life as a brutal psychopath, which no one takes seriously. Does he secretly feel guilty? Want to pay for his sins? I don't think so. I believe he is yearning to be recognized for the one thing in which he takes some pride, his one real passion. I think he wants someone to see him.

Yet the people in his social circles, in which everyone seems oddly invisible, see and hear only what they want to. So Patrick settles for being recognized only in those last agonizing minutes or hours of a victim's life, when they look at him, waiting for the end.

Early in the book, we realize that Patrick only feels alive -- he is only fully awake and present in his own skin -- when committing acts of brutal violence. After about 50 pages of mind-numbing tedium, in which he narrates about fashion, restaurants, night clubs, and the painfully vapid conversation among him and his associates -- we come upon a passage of lucid prose in which he's aware of the world around him, the city, the moonlight. It's a moment that lets us feel awake. Immediately after that, we see the first of a series of brutal torture and murder scenes.

Well played. Ellis, you are a master of your craft. I'm not sure I thank you for putting me inside this nut job's head, but my hat is off to you as a writer.

All this is set against the backdrop of the 80's -- ah, the 80's. That brings back memories. (Incidentally, Bret Easton Ellis and I are about the same age.) Yuppies, young Republicans, fashionable cocaine use, talk shows, aerobics, hardbodies. An era sometimes remembered for crass materialism and a widening gap between rich and poor, a gap that is reflected, in the background, in this novel. On one level, this novel reads as an edgy satire of its time and of the paper-thin substance of part of the wealthy class. I was occasionally reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. That is, if Jay Gatsby had carried a knife, mace, and a nail gun with which to torture and kill his victims. :-/

This is a novel about various shades of evil, from Patrick's self-obsessed acquaintances, who judge people by their designer labels and deliberately taunt starving homeless people on the way to their overpriced restaurants and nightclubs, to ... well ... Patrick.

Eventually even his acts of gratuitous violence bore him. His exploits increase in brutality and brazenness, and eventually he seems numb to everything.

Spoiler (Highlight to Read): Patrick also appears to be the quintessential unreliable narrator. Right from the beginning, I felt something was off about his account of his exploits. After a while, I got sucked into the gratuitous violence and temporarily forgot my doubts. However, in the end it became clear that his murders are merely a figment of his depraved imagination. Or are they? We are never told for sure, but it appears that he is nothing more than a ordinary yuppie -- considered dull even by his vapid friends -- who happens to have no feeling for his fellow man.

Overall, I did not enjoy this novel. I came of age in the yuppie era, though I lacked the money and fashion sense to participate. It bored me then, and it bores me now. The novel lacked likeable characters, by design, and the violence and degradation was so gratuitous I wanted to burn the damn book. That said, I appreciated the novel, and I understand why it's considered an important work of fiction.

Ellis wisely gives us no explanations for Bateman's character -- as far as we know, he wasn't the victim of an abusive childhood and he certainly hasn't suffered at the hands of society. The book provides no answers or platitudes. It simply offers narrow glimpses into the mind of a depraved psychopath, which is reflected, in paler shades, in the nihilism and lack of human feeling we see in the cold, shallow, materialistic society around him. And Ellis does this brilliantly.

I'll also admit to enjoying some of the absurdity and dark humor in the novel. Patrick's absurd rambling tirades. His bizarre attempts to draw attention to his true nature, strewing references to his psychopathic violence into banal conversations. The scene where he shows up at a Halloween party wearing several grotesque trophies from recent murders, only to be ignored, is -- in a sick, twisted way -- kind of hilarious as well as disturbing.

This is definitely a memorable novel. And one I won't read twice.

This is my interpretation of American Psycho. Have you read this or seen the movie? What do you think?

Soon I'll watch and review the film adaptation, and I'll share my thoughts on how the book compares to the movie. I'm actually looking forward to this film. Because let's face it, even if it were a product of the mind of the sickest, most depraved director to ever walk the earth, with the benefit of the best CGI effects the world has to offer, there's no possibility that it could capture a fraction of the brutality of the book. And let's face it -- bat crap crazy people are a hell of a lot of fun to watch on screen.


Note: This review is part of the amazing Banned Book Week Event hosted by Shelia at Book Journey. Many thanks to Sheila for coordinating this.

 
As part of this event, I will be giving away a $15 Amazon.com gift card via random drawing on Oct. 31. To enter, please include your e-mail address in your comment, so I know you're "in" and I know where to find you. ;-)


This post is also of The Literary Others: An LGBT Reading Event hosted by Adam of Roof Beam Reader. If you're interested in signing up, you can do it here. If you want to check out what other people are doing for this event go here


I also read this book so I could participate in the Dueling Monsters showdown sponsored by The Estella Society. Hannibal Lecter (Red Dragon) vs. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho). I haven't read Red Dragon yet, though I've seen the movie Silence of the Lambs, but ... believe me ... after the things I've just seen, I'm almost willing to bet my first born child that my vote is going to be for Bateman.

Read More Reviews: Reading With Tequila; Mad Bibliophile; Bibliofreak; Bloody Hell, It's a Book Barrage!; Frequency of Silence; Books, Time and Silence; Between the Covers; Savidge Reads; Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

70 comments:

  1. I have to admit that I haven't read this book or seen the movie. I know it will freak me out. For Banned Book Week I read The Color of Earth and it was wonderful!

    Kendal
    Kinx's Book Nook
    kinxsbooknook@gmail.com

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I'll check out your review, too. I've never heard of The Color of the Earth.

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  2. Awesome! I dont know if this book would be for me - but loved your thoughts on it! AND thanks so much for being a part of banned book week - i am having so much fun!

    journey throughbooks@gmail.com

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    1. Thanks, Sheila! You're doing a great job with this event.

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  3. I haven't read this or seen the movie. I'm not sure I would like it either but I like to give a book a try just to be sure.

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  4. I haven't read this book, nor seen the movie. The book sounds unique. saubleb(at)gmail(dot0com

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  5. I'm in! Thanks for the giveaway!
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

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  6. This is one of the rare occasions when I prefer the film over the book. I thought the book was tedious, almost *too* detailed. When Patrick describes his hair car products with a paragraph worth of information, that's too much. It plays out much better on screen.

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    1. I haven't seen the movie yet, Brittani, but I am right there with you! I had to skim whole pages because of all the chatter about hair care products and designer labels. I feel it served a purpose in the overall tone and intent of the novel ... but, wow!

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  7. All I can say is that it is RIDICULOUS that I haven't read this yet!! ::Hanging my head in shame::

    @jenhartling
    jhartling74@aol.com

    Thanks for the giveaway!

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    1. Well, it's definitely not a novel for everyone. :-) You're welcome!

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  8. I've read the book and seen the movie :) I enjoyed reading your take on the book. It's always nice to find others who have actually read it! I really liked the book. And not because I'm into brutality, rape, murder, etc. (some of the scenes are so grotesque that I wanted to hurl), but because I too can appreciate really good literature.

    The movie was pretty good. I don't think (like most book to movie adaptations) that it can hold a candle to the book, but Christian Bale is an amazing and believable actor, and scares the pants right off of you! He plays the part almost TOO well, and I had a really hard time seeing him in other movies shortly after seeing American Psycho, because of it!

    Thanks for sharing and for a great giveaway! :)
    songbird1613 at yahoo dot com

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    1. Yes, I've heard Christian Bale is terrifyingly good in this movie. I wonder how many people didn't want to share a cab with him for a while after the film was released? :-)

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  9. Though this probably wasn't the desired effect, American Psycho sounds like a well-written book I'd like to read (but I probably won't). It sounds genius to have the first fifty pages of the novel droll and repetitive, like Bateman's own life, then spice up the narrative, just around the turn of his life.

    Thanks for the giveaway! packed_house1997@att.net

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    1. It is a well crafted novel. :) Have you seen the movie, Alex?

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  10. There are things in this book that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Scary, disturbing images that will never ever be erased from my mind. And while I must carry that burden I will do so willingly. Bret Easton Ellis didn't so much as write a literary masterpiece as she wrote a work of sublime art. One of the best novels ever written in the English language. Period.

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    1. Wow! That is quite a glowing endorsement. :)

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  11. I've seen the movie, but need to read the book. Many people told me the book is MUCH more brutal. Thanks for the giveaway!
    Kelly
    Thewellreadredhead at gmail dot com

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    1. I've heard the same thing -- the movie is much less brutal. I understand much of the violence is off-screen.

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  12. I'm not sure I want to read this book. I read Glamorama, and if I remember well, I liked that. But I found Less Than Zero rather... unpleasant - and actually gave that book away to a friend of mine who wants to use it for school (her own education, that is).

    Have you tried Glamorama? I feel it may be one of his more accessible books.

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    1. I hadn't heard of Glamorama. American Psycho is the only novel by this author I've read. I did see the movie adaptation of Less Than Zero many years ago ... wasn't that the cocaine abuse flick with a young Andrew McCarthy and Jami Gertz? It didn't make much of an impression on me.

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  13. This book just doesn't interest me. I'm not into horror. Thanks for the giveaway!
    amandarwest atgmaildotcom

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    1. You're welcome. Thanks for dropping by.

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  14. I'm going to be reading (though WHY? WHY? Because Fizzy Jill is sending me her copy) and I'm kind of nervous. Everyone gets sick over it. It sounds just awful. Yet no one didn't finish it, which says something.

    For the record, I'd like to say that I grew up in a very different kind of 80s! Thank goodness!

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    1. I grew up in a very different kind of 80's too. I lacked the money or fashion sense to be a "yuppie," I never tried cocaine, heck ... I even voted Democrat! You could almost say I skipped that decade altogether. :-P

      It is definitely a disgusting book, and a bit hard to get through at times, but I can't deny its literary merit. And as you said, I didn't put it down. I guess that in itself speaks volumes. ;-)

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  15. It sounds disgusting but I am intrigued.

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    1. Disgusting and intriguing is a good way to describe it. :)

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  16. Glad you enjoyed some of this. Don't know how you'll react to the film, but I can't wait to read your thoughts on it. :)

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    1. I am curious about how I'm going to react to the film, too. ;-)

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  17. 'The novel lacked likeable characters, by design, and the violence and degradation was so gratuitous I wanted to burn the damn book. That said, I appreciated the novel, and I understand why it's considered an important work of fiction.'

    Spot on! That sums up exactly my feeling. Like I said before, I threw it across the room at one point and considered not picking it up again. It's disgusting but very well written and has some surprisingly funny bits. Great review!

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    1. Thanks, Pete! It does sound like we had similar reactions to this book.

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  18. Having enjoyed a book or not, having been bored by it not, having found it to be too full of swearing/sex/innuendo (the list goes on) it's wonderful that we get to make the decision on whether we read it or not - to think that there are those out there who would ban a ban because THEY deemed it inappropriate is so wrong.

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  19. I'm curious! LOL!
    Jesse
    jesse.kimmelfreeman@gmail.com

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  20. Great review! I had different sentiments though - I felt all the murders were real and that was his tragedy - everyone blended in so well that his greatest "accomplishment", one thing that separated him from all the other yuppies seemed to go unnoticed and even worse - because he was unhinged he himself wasn't even sure if it happened. The movie ends the same way and it was Mary Harron, the director who clarified that it wasn't her intention for it to come off ambiguous, she believed the murders were real.

    One of the reasons that this is my favorite novel is how hilarious it is and how deeply it takes us into this world - it's one of the few boooks that actually transported me to different time. And the humour of it never fails to make me laugh.

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. I still stand by my interpretation, but yours makes perfect sense. Interesting that the film director sees it the same way you do and didn't intend for there to be any ambiguity. I wonder whether Bret Easton Ellis ever took a position on this?

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  21. I'm surprised that it wasn't Mary Harron's intention for it to be ambiguous. Because to me the movie is ambiguous, there is a screenshot I shared of "Feed me a stray cat" at the cash machine. And that is going on in Bateman's head for sure.

    Author Bret Easton Ellis claims there are only a few pages of violence in the novel, Sati is correct in pointing out in the comments at my blog , that Ellis could be wrong on that fact.
    So all in all, I don't think we can entirely trust what the director or author have to say about American Psycho, which is an unusual situation...

    My review of the film/book:
    http://moviesandsongs365.blogspot.com/2012/02/film-review-american-psycho-2000.html

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    1. Only a few pages of violence? Please! He's not talking about the same book I read.

      So what we have here is a case of an unreliable narrator AND an unreliable author and director. *LOL*

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    2. WARNING ... Spoilers

      In terms of ambiguity, in the book, the scenes of violence become increasingly cinematic and detached from reality, in my opinion. There was a theatrical shooting and car chase scene with the police that made me shout "c'mom ... this is totally a figment of his deranged imagination!" Of course this could be interpreted as representing Bateman's increasing dissociation and grandiosity -- it's really happening, but he's seeing it in a skewed way. Who knows?

      Toward the end, someone says he saw a man Bateman allegedly murdered -- after his supposed death -- roaming around London. Granted, these guys were always mixing each other up with other people, but it definitely raised the question. And a homeless man whose eyes Bateman had supposedly gouged out was holding a sign "Lost Sight in Vietnam." Was he lying? You could make a case for that. But I think Ellis *definitely* intended for it to be unclear whether Bateman imagined his exploits.

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    3. I agree Ellis intended for it to be unclear whether Bateman imagined his exploits.

      When Bret Easton Ellis was quoted about only 4 pages of violence(that I typed in the comments at my review), perhaps Ellis was referring to, that most of the violence was playing out in Patrick Bateman's head, and that the 4 pages of ACTUAL violence was happening for real. Just a thought.

      The violence is still very real to the reader, though, even if Bateman is imagining the crimes.

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    4. Absolutely. It's just as real to the reader either way. Imagined violence inside a fictional book. A dream within a dream -- like Inception. :)

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  22. Too freaky scary for me I think. I wouldn't ban it, just not read or watch.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  23. I haven't read the book but saw the movie ages ago. I don't remember liking it or maybe it just didn't make much of an impression. I don't do ambiguity.

    Great post -- enjoyed it. The descriptions of Patrick and his acquaintances did disgust me. Unfortunately, it's not all fiction. I'm sure there are people like that.

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    1. Agreed. Sociopathic violence aside, the characters in this book were repulsive. And yes, sadly, I think there are people who are that cold, materialistic, and shallow.

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  24. Stephanie, this is an excellent, thorough, and well balanced write-up. Loved everything about it.

    Now, although American Psycho (and the majority of Ellis' novels) is among my favorite books of all time, I completely understand any and all reservations you have with it. Others here have commented appropriately, so all's I can offer is Fair Enough. I will be very very curious to hear what you think of the movie. They toned it down from the book considerably, but it is still nuts.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words. Interesting that Ellis is among your favorite authors. He seems to be sort of like Chuck Palahnuik -- people either love or revile his work. Then there are folks like me who are sort of on the fence -- *LOL* -- appreciate the literary merit but don't necessarily enjoy the ride.

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    2. See, that's so funny, because I do not enjoy Chuck Palahniuk's work at all. Weird stuff. Ellis is definitely among my faves though.

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  25. This is one of the few Ellis books that I've yet to read. I think I keep putting it off because it is "THE" Ellis book, the one everyone knows, suggests, critiques, etc. That being said - of course I'm going to read it! I've owned a copy for years (and years). I just haven't been in the mood to get in the mind of a psycho, lately, I guess.

    Fantastic review!

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    1. Thanks, Adam! I haven't read any of Ellis's other books; I'm not sure whether I will.

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  26. I haven't read anything by Ellis but your review makes me want to give American Psycho a try, so thank you :)

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  27. Thanks for this great post! I saw parts of this movie and it was very chilling! Christian Bale was excellent in the movie! I love banned book week and learning about what books have been banned and why. Thanks for this great giveaway - I would love to win!

    susanw28 (at) mindspring (dot) com

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  28. What a great, intelligent review! I don't think I would read this book all the way through if I disliked the characters - for me, characters tend to trump everything else, even awesome plot :-)

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Aarti. Characters usually come first for me -- in both books and films, but especially in books. However, there are many exceptions.

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  29. I read this book several years ago and found it disturbing and bizarre. I can't say I liked or enjoyed it but I found parts of it fascinating. I agree with you that the characters weren't likable. This made it difficult for me to care much what happened to any of them! I though Ellis' commentary on society which was reflected ona larger scale in Bateman's character was interesting and unsettling.

    I saw the movie several months ago and I preferred to the book, a rare occurrence for me!

    I loved your review of this book. Your post is really well-written and thoughtful.

    Thank you for the generous giveaway, too :o)

    Aimala127(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Amy. I agree with what you said about it being disturbing and bizarre and about Ellis's social commentary -- both as reflected in Bateman and in the world around him -- being interesting and unsettling. That's an excellent way to put it.

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  30. never read this, nor have I seen the film. I think it might be a bit too much for me to stomach...but it certainly sounds fascinating in a weird sort of way.

    -Lauren
    lauren51990 AT aol DOT com

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    1. "Fascinating in a weird sort of way" is a good way to put it. :-)

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  31. I've seen the movie, which is more cartoon-y than lurid. But this is an excellent review (and honestly makes me want to read the book).

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  32. I'm just not sure I'm up for it. I picked up a copy several months ago--actually the same time I picked up Virgin Suicides--but after hearing the chitchat on twitter I just don't know. Red Dragon, I'm guessing, is incredibly mild in comparison.

    I did see this movie in the theaters and there were some parts that were so obscene that I had to close my eyes. This was a fantastic review, Stephanie--you must be right about Ellis being a crafty guy...I just can't imagine any other reasons why this one is still being read (and on the 1001 Books You Must Read list!).

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Trish. :-) I'm not sure whether to recommend American Psycho. Some people love it passionately, but it isn't for everyone.

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  33. I've heard so much about American Psycho, but I never got the chance to read it or watch the movie. But I think I should do so soon after reading your great review! Can't wait to know what you have to say about the movie. :)

    I'm participating in the LGBT Reading Event to! It would be great if you could stop by sometime. :)

    Sarika @ The Readdicts

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  34. I read this book several years ago and thought it was fantastic--incredibly disturbing but really well written. I saw the movie too (big Willem Dafoe fan).

    Thanks for the chance to win this awesome giveaway! :)

    slbastin at gmail dot com

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Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- reader comments make this blogging gig worthwhile. :-) Due to excessive spam, we are now moderating all comments. Like that dude in the Monty Python skit, we just Don't ... Like ... Spam. I will try to post and respond to your comments as quickly as possibly.