IMPERIAL BEDROOMS by Breat Easton Ellis
In Imperial Bedrooms Bret Easton Ellis revisits the characters from his 1985 debut Less Than Zero, who are alive and well (relatively speaking) in present day Los Angeles. Random House was gracious enough to send me an advance review copy (the novel won’t be released until June 15th) and I decided to reread Less Than Zero as a refresher course before diving in.
Clay (Less Than Zero‘s protagonist, now a semi-successful screenwriter) returns to Los Angeles after a stint in New York to aid in the casting of The Listeners, a film he has adapted from a popular novel (possibly a parody of Ellis’ experience with the adaption of his book The Informers.) Clay is drawn back into his old circles, revisiting friends now 25 years older than when we last glimpsed into their lives and more cynical and unhappy than their narcissistic, deadpan teenage selves. When Clay develops a manipulative relationship with a young girl auditioning for a part in The Listeners, he inadvertently mires himself in a dangerous and complicated web that strings the reader along until the final pages. Hollywood, when viewed through the characters’ eyes, has gone from a shiny, superficial white-washed tomb to a very dark and miserable world of emptiness, violence and betrayal. Clay Easton, once a sort of sympathetic 80’s Hollywood version of Holden Caulfield, has slowly become monstrous beneath a vacuous exterior, and his capacity for the unthinkable slowly surfaces as the story spins out of control.
Imperial Bedrooms is both true to Ellis’ unique style and a departure from some of his norms. The tone is appropriately different from Less Than Zero and the satirical edge is more subtle, imparting a level of ambiguity on the “immorality” taking place. The first half of the book reads like an Ellis’ version of a dramatic murder mystery before he interjects a thoughtful sense of dread into the text. The conclusion is superb.
will you be offended? Probably. There are a couple of scenes most people would find pretty upsetting (which is the point.)
Bret Easton Ellis is one of my favorite authors and perhaps my biggest literary influence. I borrow—stylistically—from Ellis more so than any of my other pronounced influences and reading his books has always been one of my major motivations to write myself. Unfortunately, Ellis isn’t compelled to churn out novels on a regular basis. In fact, he’s only published six novels (and one collection of linked short stories) in the last fifteen years. It’d be nice to have a book from Mr. Ellis on a somewhat regular basis, but the long wait makes for the arrival of something new something of a special occasion. Let’s take a quick stroll across Bret Easton Ellis’ bibliography… as mentioned before when his book Glamorama was a book of the week, Ellis writes dark and controversial stories and I am not recommending them to everyone. Even those with a high tolerance for “offensive” material would do well to think twice.
Ellis’ first novel, published while he was 19, is an unusual stream of desensitized teenage life in early 80’s LA. The story’s protagonist, Clay, returns to his hometown of Los Angeles for Christmas break after a stint at a New Hampshire College and is quickly drawn into the decadent, high-class lifestyle of parties, drugs and one night stands. The book doesn’t have a traditional story arch and reads more like an unflinching documentary that becomes increasingly bogged in the emptiness of glitz/glamor/cocaine. The novel was (very loosely) adapted into a film starring Robert Downey Jr. in 1987, though Ellis explained that there is “no connection between the book and the movie, except for the title and the names of the characters.”
THE RULES OF ATTRACTION
Ellis’ second novel, though boasting a more developed and traditional story-line, failed to excite the sales and acclaim of its predecessor. The Rules Of Attraction centers around a group of spoiled art-college students wrapped up in something of a sexual love triangle. Sean Bateman (whose brother Patrick makes a cameo appearance and later stars in the novel American Psycho) takes the forefront as a mean-spirited, promiscuous 21-year-old attempting to force true love through a relationship with Lauren, who is busy sleeping around campus awaiting her boyfriend’s return from Europe. As usual, Ellis pushes the satirical envelope to edge of absurdity in a wonderful way. The novel was adapted to film in 2002 and might be the most faithfully executed Ellis adaptation to date.
DON’T READ AMERICAN PSYCHO. And if you do, never say Josh Dies recommended it. Few books have a reputation for being as unreadable and vile as American Psycho and even the most steeled of tolerances often bail out before reaching the worst of it. The novel encited uproarious protests from women’s groups prior to its release in 1991 causing its original publisher to drop it before it was picked up by Random House. American Psycho features some of the most vividly detailed descriptions of unbelievable sadism, torture, sex, sexual mutilation, violence against women, men, children and animals. What fascinates me about American Psycho (aside from the controversy) is the completely original contrast that takes place within the text. Ellis sets out to satirize materialistic yuppie culture in 80’s New York and does so by focusing on the rants of Patrick Bateman, a wealthy 26-year-old investment banker who obsesses over elite fashion, night life, etiquette and rape, torture and murder. The book reads like this hilarious mockery of the upper-class elite, as Bateman painstakingly details his fitness regime, diet and wardrobe and then uses the same shallow, superficial sensibility to describe his sexual experiences with prostitutes and their subsequent unfathomable mutilation and execution. The idea of this obsession with materialism, surface and appearance is scrutinized under such an accusatory microscope that the satire is driven into realms of unbelievable extremes. The novel traveled a long and complicated road to the big screen (with Johnny Depp, Leonardo Dicaprio and Oliver Stone all being attached at some point) before its film adaptation was released in 2000. Rather than make an attempt at including the novel’s controversial scenes, the film focuses on the satirical nature of the book and faithfully adapts the tone of absurdity. The violent scenes that made it into the movie are mostly G-rated by comparison or happen off-screen (though a scene in which Bateman confesses his murders to his lawyer’s answering machine features a litany of events that don’t take place in the film but were graphically detailed in the novel, i.e. “I ate some of their brains… And I tried to cook a little.”) At any rate, American Psycho is perhaps Bret Easton Ellis’ most notorious book, fan favorite and well-known film adaptation. Though most of his books include certain acts of depravity, none take them remotely near the lengths that American Psycho does to make its point. Many liberal, open-minded and desensitized readers have described the book as pornographic and harmful, and I myself skipped over many of the sexual scenes.
Ellis’ third release is a complilation of intersecting short stories (written mostly while he was still in college) and has much in common with the tone of Less Than Zero. The book takes place mostly in 80’s California and revolves around vapid, narcissistic, drug-addled characters, a strung out rock star on tour in Japan, and a materialistic vampire named Jamie who suffers a “bad trip” after preying on a girl who is high on heroin. The extreme nature of things is pretty tamed down compared to Ellis other books (except for a particularly horrible scene in which a small boy is stabbed to death.) The book was adapted into a fincancially unsuccessful (and mostly panned) film in 2009 which was pretty faithful to the story and its tone (the vampire story and child murder were both omitted.)
Ellis long delayed fourth novel is perhaps his most ambitious and in-depth. True to his satirical extremes, Glamorama contains unbelievably over the top sex and violence (not to the extent that American Psycho took things, but pretty out there.) Narrated by Victor Ward, a hilariously idiotic male model in late 90’s New York. Ellis mocks the time period and the world of high fashion, dropping Victor into a secret terrorist organization made up of models. Ben Stiller “borrowed” this exact story for his 2001 film Zoolander, inciting ongoing accusations of plagiarism. A film adaptation was planned by Roger Avery but has yet to find its way into production.
Lunar Park is the biggest departure from Ellis’ general style. In the book, Ellis presents a semi-fictional version of himself as the protagonist in a fully fictional world of a suburban family man. This time, breat Easton Ellis (successfully) satirizes himself and his own work, but just as the story’s foundation is in place, it descends into a Stephen King inspired haunted house story and then begins to juggle dramatic themes dealing with the death of Ellis’ father along with the troubled relationship with his son. Lunar Park is wonderfully unique in Ellis’ library and among novels in general.