Friday, September 30, 2011

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Book Details 
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Paperback, 416 Pages
1991, Vintage
ISBN: 0679735771

In American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis imaginatively explores the incomprehensible depths of madness and captures the insanity of violence in our time or any other. Patrick Bateman moves among the young and trendy in 1980s Manhattan. Young, handsome, and well educated, Bateman earns his fortune on Wall Street by day while spending his nights in ways we cannot begin to fathom. Expressing his true self through torture and murder, Bateman prefigures an apocalyptic horror that no society could bear to confront.

The American Psycho movie with Christian Bale was phenomenal. It definitely in my top 100 movies ever watched. When I learned it was based on a book, I couldn't wait to read it. Unfortunately, the nuances of Patrick Bateman translated much better visually than they did in print.

Patrick, like most yuppies of the 1980s, is obsessed with expensive things. He makes constant note of what every character is wearing (including the designer of each piece of clothing) and every course ordered from each fancy restaurant he visits. We are told about every new gadget and toy he acquires. And we are privy to every step of his fitness and beauty regimen, including how many sit ups he did that day and what brand of facial cleansers (yes, plural) he used in the morning. While this plays out well on screen (and is tapered down a lot), it's repetitive and takes up a bulk of the book's 400+ pages.

The movie is gory. The book manages to go beyond that. It's flat out disgusting, with is saying something given my penchant for all things gory. Shoving a hungry rat into someone's girly bits, literally causing a woman's chest to explode by electrocuting her and other acts of depraved torture are described in minute detail. It was written vividly, causing the squirm factor to be high.

American Psycho sort of failed for me both as a novel and as horror specifically. The book is filled with details, yet there really isn't a plot beyond Patrick likes to kill people. Watch Patrick kill people. Watch Patrick feel no remorse. And watch him do it again. Nothing actually happened in the book beyond that basic premise. As for being horror, the book just wasn't scary. There wasn't any tension, any build-up. It was eat a meal, have some gore, go to a dance club, kill a random bum, rinse, repeat. Even in cheesy slasher movies, there's an intended scare factor. Not here though. In American Psycho, we know Patrick is a serial killer, know that no one is safe from him and that leaves us with no surprises beyond the ever escalating goriness.

I had expected the book to contain the same level of gore as the movie, but with more plot or background information worked in. I got more gore and a lot of unnecessary details about fashion and food. American Psycho is one of those books you should skip in favor of the movie, unless you're into highly descriptive torture porn.


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