Bret Easton Ellis,
American Psycho
(Vintage; 1991; Picador, 2000)

I relaxed on my Ethan Allen couch to read Bret Easton Ellis's late-1980s Manhattan-of-yuppie-excess thriller, American Psycho. I had to put it down to dine on quail sashimi with peach ravioli and baby soft-shell crabs with grape jelly, and after dinner I noted the Vintage Contemporary cover was a far from ideal surface from which to snort cocaine. After donning my Valentino Lycra sports outfit, I resumed reading on the Lifecycle in my $500/month health club. As a whole, I found the financial district consumerist novel to be a brilliant social satire in the tradition of Swift, with lyrical genius comparable to a finely crafted Genesis song. I dropped the title in conversation over Absolut double martinis at the cigar club the following night, and I was secretly delighted my archnemesis at the firm fumbled when trying to debate its relative merits with me.

(At this point, allow me to transition back to reality as Jessica Lux-Baumann, book reviewer.) Twenty-seven-year-old Patrick Bateman is a Wall Street mergers-and-acquisitions executive who spends a few hours a day in his stark Manhattan office and the rest of the time at his exclusive gym, in clubs, clamoring for reservations at the hottest restaurants, cheating with his friends' fiancees and, oh, murdering socialites and the homeless. Everyone in his 1980s NYC life is too self-absorbed to notice his true character (in fact, a realtor gladly cleans up carnage to make a sale on a hot piece of property). Bateman embodies yuppie ideals while mocking the inferiority of everyone else in his circle. Girls are "hardbodies" or "bitches," reduced to physical measurements and shagability (although Bateman uses considerably less polite terminology).

The book consists of short chapters -- diary entries, if you will -- of scenes in Bateman's life. At times, he lapses into eloquent yet fanboyish soliloquies about bands like Genesis, Huey Lewis & the News and Whitney Houston. He thinks about mutilation and torture while debating the relative merits of different brands of sparkling water or discussing the proper way to wear a sweater vest.

I've seen Mary Harron's film adaptation of the book several times, and it is a true, but condensed version of the novel. The novel is far darker, however, with graphic descriptions of torture and murder (eyeballs dripping like runny eggs and so forth).

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

15 March 2008

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