You may have asked yourself, “How far is too far?” in literature. Having finished American Psycho last night, I will never need to ask myself that question again. O_O
Picture this: the Marquis de Sade, Hannibal Lecter, and Bellatrix Lestrange have a threeway and produce a child. That child grows up to be Patrick Bateman, the protagonist of American Psycho. Put another way, Patrick Bateman is the American Martin Vanger from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, except Patrick actually eats a few of his victims. I may have thrown up in my mouth a little just typing that.
The novel’s plot, in brief, is this: Patrick Bateman is a yuppie with a vaguely finance-oriented career on Wall Street, working for a firm in the mid-to-late 1980s. He has a lovely (if vacuous) girlfriend/fiancée named Evelyn, high-end gadgets (including the cutting-edge CD player!), a platinum AmEx card, a circle of yuppie friends, a Zagat guide to fine dining, and a cocaine addiction. Oh, and he’s also a serial killer who enjoys raping and torturing women, especially sexual partners (and he murders a few homeless guys and a work colleague, too). But Patrick is a profoundly unreliable narrator: he is so often confused with other men, and he occasionally confuses himself with someone else, so that everything we are told is thrown into doubt.
To say anything more would be to give it all away, and if you ever want to read it, I won’t deny you the experience. Personally, I cannot decide whether Bret Easton Ellis is a demented genius or a total hack (and I vacillate between the two stances and somewhere in between constantly). If you read American Psycho as a commentary on the vacuousness that materialism and economic greed in the 1980s produces in people (as I am choosing to do, since it dovetails with my doctoral research), then it is a blistering criticism of our society, a sort of cannibalistic, macabre companion to White Noise. When Patrick declares that he specializes in “Murders and Executions,” his peers hilariously misinterpret it as “Mergers and Acquisitions.” Several times, he gives indicators as to who he is, and no one pays attention. It’s an indictment of how deliberately obtuse and willfully ignorant we can choose to be.
Overall, I thought that certain parts of American Psycho showed peculiar insight into human condition, while other parts filled me with profound disgust and loathing. I won’t elaborate. But there are dismemberments and nail guns and all sorts of things I can’t unread that I never want to think about.
Let’s just say that No Country for Old Men doesn’t scare me anymore. The Cement Garden is a child’s bedtime story compared to American Psycho. And if you’ve ever read Ian McEwan’s early works, that’s saying something.