English teachers everywhere decry the shocking decline of literary merit in the deluge of writing to be found on the shelves of bookstores today. Most authors are content to write passingly entertaining stories that contain no more impact than the weight of the book itself. American Psycho, however, rides the line.
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.