Was the Book Better? Reviewing American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis | Fanboys Anonymous

Was the Book Better? Reviewing American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Posted by Eddie Siqueira Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Sometimes there are works in writing that deserve praise for being so straightforward. Others deserve recognition for their subterfuge and double meanings. Bret Easton Ellis's 1991 novel American Psycho belongs to both of the aforementioned categories.

American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis Christian Bale New York City 80's decade Wall Street

I have to admit that the 2000 Christian Bale-starred movie adaption of the book was plastered into my psyche (probably due to the actor's milestone performance), but as nearly every instance has proven, the book is usually more detailed (and better) than the film.

I won't say the book is better, but it feels like a different, new world than that of the silver screen adaption. For starters, we have a more in-depth accommodation when it comes to Patrick Bateman's mind. It's a front row seat into the careless and completely unbalanced psyche that is the Wall Street yuppie's world, narrated by him in the first person (and, on at least one occasion, third person). All that matters is the competition of dress wear, which starts out to be a very boring obsession on Bateman's behalf, but highlights his oncoming lunacy. At least every two or three pages, he must point out the minute details of what he or someone else is wearing, from a description of Oliver Peoples glasses to the specific fabric of an Armani v-neck sweater, or the price of a piece of Tiffany & Co. jewelry.

It is a dreary, boring affair to follow the steps of a person who is completely alienated, yet fits in with the elite of late 1980's New York City—seemingly. His obsessions, such as dress codes, the latest high-tech home appliances and subjects on The Patty Winters Show (the latter appears to be the only way Bateman keeps track of days), are a burden, and though they provide stress relief for our narrator, all of them prove to be a cage from which he is desperate to escape. The only way to do so is to apply a completely reckless approach towards his surroundings; daydreaming of slicing throats open, not knowing anyone's name with absolute certainty, and harassing and bullying the homeless.

The book should make some sort of progress when reaching its middle, but no—it's the same keen analysis of Patek Phillipe watches and lame show-off dialogue when Bateman is among peers. Even though I was aware of the satirical nature of the book, it only truly becomes clear when you happen upon the discography chapters, such as the Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and The News 'discography reviews.' The severity of Bateman's obsessions are clear with the constant over-analysis of every corner in his life, from the food to the specific champagne glasses he and others drink from.

Wall Street is about competition, and in American Psycho it's no different. Bateman is at a constant race to be the best, though he is usually hopelessly behind in many self-imposed races against his social group. One of these is Dorsia, a restaurant measured as the pinnacle of New York City's finest dining experience. I actually laughed while reading this book on the bus when I came to the chapter where he discovers his date is the fiancee of  Dorsia's head chef; the description of his anguish and need to hurt what he cannot control becomes quite amusing at that point.

In literary terms, American Psycho can be somewhat progressive, with broken trains-of-thought and unfinished paragraphs, which manage to make very good sense if you are a fast reader—the lack of breathing room adds significantly to the character's social claustrophobia. This is an aspect the movie failed to deliver properly, only showing one scene in the end where he loses control and cries on the phone with his secretary.

One cannot read about a delusional serial killer without running into graphic details. The pornography is quite explicit in a few chapters, and shows Bateman's complete detachment from other people, including the women he has threesomes with, and then (not always) kills. The murder scenes are like a horror buff's essays, describing body parts and actions to go with them in precise detail, and where he will stash the bodies and parts.

These torture-kill scenes are written in such a manner as to act as a gateway into Bateman's innermost frailties and reveal him to be a babbling child at times, with complete desperation taking hold, only to find himself pulled together in the following paragraph at a banquet or the latest well-reviewed restaurant in the Zagat guide (probably Nell's or a nightclub like Tunnel). It wouldn't make too much difference: often, Bateman—and all other characters of his ilk for that matter—forget restaurant names, confuse each other's names, and don't really recall what they did the previous day because all is disposable and replaceable in this world.

It was no surprise to me when I researched a bit into Bret Easton Ellis's motivations for writing this book, and found quite the obvious; for the constant race in materialism is an empty affair, which led the author to become entrapped in his own observations whilst pandering to materialistic needs. This period of his life brought nothing at all, only distance from what seemed to be real happiness. Ellis only admitted to having much more in common with his main character in an interview in 2010, a good twenty years after writing the novel.

American Psycho, after all its endless flurry of daydreaming murders (which are logically daydreams, though that is never made absolutely clear), obsessions with appearances and upscale restaurants, brings to light a very good point from the author's point of view: if we are to consider the highest strata of society as something all should strive for, then we are going about life in the wrong way. The highest rung of New York City life is deceitful, coke-addled and narcissistic beyond repair. Patrick Bateman was only one point of view; a man who measures life exclusively in money and possessions (and quality thereof), and mocks those below him. Troubling, however, is the fact that many of his peers and colleagues usually behave in the same way, such as forgetting people's names, acting interested in the shallowest possible way, and only communicating through achievements in purchase, wealth, and reservations at Dorsia. It is a world where all of this is what people strive to achieve, only to realize there is no finish line, only empty indulgence.

This book rates a 4 out of 5 to me, not making it to full score because of the non-stop descriptions of couture, wool vests, and suitcase leather color. Although pivotal to understanding the narrator's narrow view on life, it seemed a bit much to me; otherwise, it is a very well written caricature of what the author saw in this lifestyle.Manhattan is also portrayed as what it really was: a contrast of rich and poor.

What do you think? Did the book convey a more detailed message than that of the movie? Or was the film faithful to the feel and pace of the book? Comment, then have dinner at Olive Garden. No, wait—Red Lobster. No, Olive Garden.

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