Patrick Bateman is 26 and works on Wall Street. Handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent, he is also a psychopath.
No matter the genre, a novel is successful if it makes the reader think, pause and reassess the world. Ellis' novel offers a satirical look into the pampered New York elite through the eyes of an original and sociopath main character.
Narration: The first-person narration captures the reader instantly, introducing Patrick's innermost thoughts and fastidious rituals, such as cleaning his body with more products than your local Rite-Aid. Patrick takes the reader along to trendy, $25-cover clubs, scouting for "hardbodies" and lamenting about cheap drugs sold on the dance floor. Ellis has made a wise choice using Patrick as the narrator. As you read, you are engaged, participating. What is interesting is how the reader is both involved, and detached simultaneously (bringing me to the next point...)
Characters: Are sufficiently flat and underdeveloped, working both to keep the reader from empathizing too greatly with a victim, while also serving to support the satirical edge that in life, nobody gets too close. Patrick's monotonous lifestyle of work, working out, renting videos and spotting Les Miserables posters is all too familiar. He (as so many other characters in the book) cannot tell one acquaintance from another. Everyone in Patrick's world looks alike, corporate paper dolls with trophy wives/ lovers.
Structure: Easton uses run-on sentences and fragments to simulate the breakdown of Bateman's mind. Some chapters will end with an incomplete thought, others will explode with angry stream-of-consciousness.
Satire: The violence in the novel is not simply a gruesome, gratuitous tool. Granted, Bateman conceives of some of the most "innovative" murder scenes around, yet Bateman is raging against his deadened society, trying to "feel something." Bateman's actions mock everything our capitalistic society holds dear--wealth, status, the rat race, the American dream.
What Doesn't Work:
Real or Illusion? Readers wonder if Ellis has created a scenario where all of the events are completely fabricated in Bateman's mind. Some ambiguity in the plot leads to this conclusion--a maid cleaning his apartment after a slaughter and "not noticing anything," dry cleaners ignoring repeated bloodstains on dress shirts, a realtor selling an acquaintance's apartment after Bateman left a grisly tableau behind (which is later inexplicably cleaned & unreported to police--by whom?) This uncertainty may frustrate you.
So now when I hear "It's so violent, too graphic, what's the point?" I wonder if it refers to the innovative novel, American Psycho, or perhaps life itself? You decide. Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend -- completely unrelated to Ellis, but very much on my mind since I purchased it off Amazon is "The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez, an exceptional, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about.
Like all works of literary merit, A.P. requires a reader of some patience and discerning knowledge, especially at its onset, where the anti-hero, Patrick Bateman, painstakingly details the clothing, fragrances, and routines of himself and the satellite characters. As his madness begins to dominate his life, these lists shorten, indicating that Patrick's only concept of sanity is tied into the ridiculous and meaningless value statements society has placed on such things as Pierre Cardin luggage and designer eyewear.
Some reviewers have called Patrick an emotionless character, when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is Patrick's emotion that compels him to kill. Ellis has so delicately woven the more revealing aspects of Bateman's cruel soul into the sometimes benumbing lists of status symbols that the point can be easily lost (reading these reviews, that much is obvious), but the truth is, Ellis has a point. A powerful one.
He tips his hand somewhat in the last four or five pages of the book, when a yuppie named Price discusses the inconsistencies between Regan's outward appearances and his inner personality. This is where the novel's metaphors find their strongest purchase, and so become the most heavy-handed, but it remains a fine conclusion to a meticulously created story.
Of course, the book is severe and explicit, but not for shock's sake and not for the same reason that, say, pornography is. Although Bateman's flat candor when discussing his actions is often deeply disturbing, more so is the response he receives when he attempts to confess, to share, to purge his evil by exposing it to the light of day. The light of day, this novel seems to say, can be just as deceptive, discouraging, and ineffective as anything else, and when Patrick's bloodlust finally does seep into his daylight hours, and his hold on his sanity begins to slip for good, nothing really changes.
Perhaps the best contrivance of the book is that Patrick lives in a world of indistinguishable stereotypes. Very few characters, in fact, know who anyone else is, and so they are all referred to alternately by half a dozen different names. Again, although Ellis' point grows somewhat obtuse during these points, the impact remains just as pointed as his more subtler themes.
For those of you who prefer to stick to beach books, hard-boiled thrillers, and light romances, this is not your cup of tea. For those of you who are wondering what actually happened to literature and if the novel as art is in fact dead, then you should sit down with American Psycho and be horrifyingly refreshed.
Now, for those of you who want to avoid the aforementioned gratuitous gore: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. I literally felt sick to my stomach at some scenes described in here. This is NOT due to amazing descriptive imagery by the author. Any fool can come up with descriptions of a graphic torture scene. Let's see -- a knife to the eye(make sure to include a description of the eyeball popping!), then a few stabs to the breasts...or should I make those bites? Oh yeah! I forgot to disembowel him/her!
Lastly, for those who are neither pro/anti gore and are just curious for an interesting plot: this "plot" is worthless. The wannabe-cool nihilism you find in Less Than Zero is here in full effect. Maybe Ellis is trying to contrast his flat writing "style" with the graphic content, but it doesn't work.
His next book will probably be about a homeless person, with graphic descriptions of bodily secretions for shock value, and detailed descriptions about the brand of duct tape that his homeless friends use for socks to bore us to death.
Why did I read this book then? I didn't, really. I started reading it because Less Then Zero had some little promise, and I wanted to see if Ellis had fixed the problems with his writing(he didn't). After the first half, I skimmed the rest, mostly because I wanted to see the main character get his comeuppance. He doesn't, of course.