I’ve always loved Bret Easton Ellis‘ American Psycho. Loved the book (even though any chapter titled Girls is almost impossible to read). Loved the movie; even staying in one Friday night to watch it on tv.
But I’ve never been able to properly explain why. Despite being the best social satire to emerge in the last 20 years, so many people can’t get past the violence. So it was with great glee that I read an interview with Ellis in the recent Paris Review that contained this gem:
American Psycho came out of a place of severe alienation and loneliness and self-loathing. I was pursuing a life—you could call it the Gentlemen’s Quarterly way of living—that I knew was bullshit, and yet I couldn’t seem to help it. American Psycho is a book about becoming the man you feel you have to be, the man who is cool, slick, handsome, effortlessly moving through the world, modeling suits in Esquire, having babes on his arm. It’s about lifestyle being sold as life, a lifestyle that never seemed to include passion, creativity, curiosity, romance, pain. Everything meaningful wiped away in favor of surfaces, in favor of looking good, having money, having six-pack abs, dating the hottest porn star, going to the hottest clubs. On the surface, like Patrick Bateman, I had everything a young man could possibly want to be “happy” and yet I wasn’t. I thinkFight Club is about this, too—this idea that men are sold a bill of goods about what they have to be in order to feel good about themselves, or feel important. No one can really live up to these ideals, so there’s an immense amount of dissatisfaction roiling through the collective male psyche. Patrick Bateman is the extreme embodiment of that dissatisfaction. Nothing fulfills him. The more he acquires, the emptier he feels. On a certain level, I was that man, too.
Finally, an explanation that pithily captures the entire book – which is still just as relevant now as it was 20 years ago.