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Thursday, June 02, 2011

20 Years: Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho" Still Relevant After All These Years!

What is really important about Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho" is its social criticism--not to mention the existential issues, depictions of mental illness, and even some pathology still not cataloged by the American Medical Association.  All part-humor aside, this is a novel that stands the test of time not only because Patrick Bateman is an accurate picture of the late 1980s excess, but because since the late 1990s and onto contemporary American society we have taken excess to much higher levels.  Patrick Bateman is what Goldman Sachs, Freddie Mac, Fannie May, and Enron would look like if by some misguided science project we could give a face to the "faceless high-command" who robbed America blind in the last 10 years.  But the greed is not the most important theme.  What gives Patrick Bateman his staying power is the accuracy of a superficial and disturbed mind.  Bret Easton Ellis' technique and craft achieved a Raskolnikovian figure, a "Bigger" Thomas with an MBA and that kind of intellectual violence that later made "Pulp Fiction" attractive to nuclear physicists and Nobel prize winners.

In the last few months, and unknowingly of the anniversary, a couple of my friends (in separate occasions) were talking about the "American Psycho" movie and Christian Bale's performance.  Mary Harron's work as director has much to do with how well the book translated to the screen.  One of my friends actually mentioned how much he enjoyed the monologues, the overly-intellectual, technical and erudite analysis of Genesis' music and wished he could memorize them.  I wouldn't go that far, but I can see why someone would want to burst out one of those monologues during a boring party!

Getting back to the book, there are--admittedly--parts of the book that read like explicit pornography.  The scene with Christine and Sabrina is such an example.  However, if one is to blush over it, then one must blush to Diane DiPrima's "Memoirs of a Beatnik."  If the argument about "American Psycho" being pornographic and written by a male author seems lopsided, Diane DiPrima's book exceeds the illustrative nature of Bret Easton Ellis' work.

"American Psycho" is one of those rare classics, incomparable, often insurmountable in creativity and originality.  Yes, I am re-reading it as soon as the teaching semester is over.  Put down the DVD and read the book... it's about time, if you haven't read it.

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