Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho 
Synopsis: Patrick Bateman is handsome, well educated, intelligent. He works by day on Wall Street, earning a fortune to complement the one he was born with. His nights he spends in ways we cannot begin to fathom. He is twenty-six years old and living his own American Dream.

Date Published: March 1991
Published By: Vintage Contemporaries
Number of Pages: 400
Rating: 3/5

I really don't know what to make of this book. It is one of the most disturbing, disgusting, graphically violent novels I've ever read. I saw the movie adaptation years ago before I picked up the book and, let me tell you, the movie doesn't even come close to how violent the book is.

The novel is told from the POV of Patrick Bateman, your typical Wall Street yuppie who also happens to be a murderous psychopath. Well, maybe he's a murderous psychopath or maybe it's just all in his head. It's never really made clear in the book.

The book can basically be split into two types of scenes - the first type of scene is where Patrick Bateman and his Wall Street buddies decide which expensive restaurant to go to and which club they go to after so they can objectify women and do blow in the bathroom. These scenes are laden with descriptions of the types of clothes everyone is wearing down to the labels, what food they eat, which drinks they order, etc. While these scenes are tedious and repetitive, I think they do a decent job of pointing out the emptiness of materialism and consumerism that is a huge part of Western culture.

And then there is the second type of scene - the horrific, graphic depictions of violence that are so vivid as to be practically vomit-inducing. (I did find myself actually gagging at one point.) These scenes are why this book is so (in)famous and why it is so controversial. Most of Patrick's victims are women and the violence he inflicts on them is hyper-sexual in nature and extremely misogynistic. Bateman feels no compassion or pity for his victims and treats them like pieces of meat.

So, I guess the main question is: Is the graphic violence necessary to the story? Let's say we take the violent scenes out of the book. What are we left with? A pretty boring satire on Wall Street and yuppie culture. The only thing the graphic violence adds to the story is shock value. The violence inflicted on Bateman's female victims is particularly disturbing and drawn out. I'm not saying violence against women should never be depicted in literature or on film. I am saying that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. If you're going to have graphic violence in your book, I think it should have a point, should make some commentary about violence in our society or our desensitization to it. One could make the argument that Ellis wrote those graphic scenes to jolt the reader out of complacency and was trying to convey the true horror of a violent murder - but that's not what I got from it.

If nothing else, this book will challenge you and make you think. Not every reading experience has to be a pleasant one. I can at least say that I've read this book and I never have to read it again. 

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