They buy their freakin
‘ Wayfarers and try to act all ambivalent about everything and use words like “apathetic” and “nihilistic” a lot. They tweet quotes from his novels and write short story homages to their modern-day J. D. Salinger.
It’s actually kind of annoying.
. So here is a little back story:
Bret Easton Ellis is the gentleman who wrote American Psycho, Less Than Zero, and The Rules of Attraction (all made into movies). He also wrote, The Informers (which I forget was made into a movie because it’s so bad). He also wrote, Glamorama and Lunar Park (too fucked up to be turned into movies, though the same could be said for all his books).
If you already know these facts and are getting super irritated at my presumptuousness (I know I would be), then I’m sorry. I tend to lean on the idea that everyone in the world shares my love for the BEE, but I often finding myself going on boring tangents about the man wherein the person I’m speaking with finally interrupts halfway through and says, “Who the hell are you rambling on about?” Or they just walk away completely.
If you already know the back story on all this, just skip to the asterisk down below.
Imperial Bedrooms is the sequel to Ellis’ first book, Less Than Zero, which debuted in 1985 when he was a fresh-faced 20 year-old college student. Thinking about this daily causes me to go into a deep depression.
Less Than Zero is the story of a bunch of over-privileged, apathetic kids swimming in the muck of 80’s nihilistic Los Angeles. The narrator, Clay, who fled to college on the East Coast to purge himself of his nihilistic surroundings, finds himself back in LA on holiday break and partaking in the same apathetic behavior as he did before. He reunites with his on-again-off-again girlfriend Blair and tries to look for his childhood friend Julian, whom he’s discovered has a roaring heroin problem and sells himself to men to pay for his habit. Other characters include Rip, Clay’s crazy dealer, Trent, Clay’s crazy friend, and a bunch of bimbo-y, anorexic, slutty girlfriends of Blair’s. In typical Ellis fashion, the story plays out more like a slice of life, than a typical three-act structure. We learn that Clay really likes Elvis Costello, that everyone in Los Angeles sleeps with one another, and that young people get off on snuff films and have the potential of gang-raping a 12 year-old girl.
Moral of the story: Young people are the devil and should be feared.
There is the movie version of this book, starring Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr., Jami Gertz, and James Spader, that Ellis has admitted to only warming up to recently, but still concedes that the film and movie are two totally separate entities. Which they are. The only similarities are the title, the time period, and the characters’ names. However, Less Than Zero the movie is endearing in it’s own right, securing its place as an aesthetically romantic portrayal of Los Angeles and the disenchanted youth of the 1980’s.
Have I gotten to Imperial Bedrooms yet? No, I haven’t. FUCK!
***Imperial Bedroom picks up with the characters twenty-five years later in Los Angeles. We don’t know a lot about what has happened to them between 1985 and now, but we know that they haven’t really changed. They still go to parties, they still do drugs, they still act apathetic and nihilistic, and they still fuck one another. The only difference is that they’ve had a little plastic surgery.
The book starts with Clay telling us about a book written about him and his friends, a book exactly like Less Than Zero, which was subsequently turned into a movie. Clay didn’t really like either.
Clay is back in LA via NYC and he finds himself sinking into the same pattern of despair. He’s a successful screenwriter, though we’re not exactly sure how he got there. He runs into his old friends, Blair, Julian, Trent, and Rip, for they seem to all still live in LA and still run in the same circles. Blair is married to Trent, who is an agent and a closet homosexual, and she has had affairs with both Julian and Clay during her marriage which cause her to be super bitchy. Julian is a pimp and Rip is a club owner/looks like Mickey Rourke. Clay doesn’t seem to be excited to see any of these people and his narration offers the same sort of confusion and discontent as his 18 year-old self did in Less Than Zero. His arrival in LA also coincides with a barrage of mysterious texts, cars following him, and people breaking into his house and moving items.
Damn. This post is getting super long. See! I told you I’m bad at this!
Clay is holding auditions for a film he both wrote and is producing called The Listeners
. He sees a beautiful actress at a party and is instantly smitten with her. He doesn’t see her again until she shows up for an audition. Her name is Rain and is a terrible actress, but does not know it. Under the subtle pretense of what one can get out of the other, Clay and Rain begin a tumultuous relationship.
Clay falls for her fast and starts getting super weird. Like Patrick Bateman weird.
I’m not going to tell you anymore. What ensues is a “who can you trust?” mystery that spirals down into a nihilistic landscape of apathy, murder, rape, blackmail, and a whole lotta of Elvis Costello lovin‘.
I will be the first to say that Bret Easton Ellis, probably my favorite author, is not a great writer. He’s a good writer. He’s an excellent romantic. His talent lies in sentimentalizing the mundaneness of reality and the iniquitousness of man. Imperial Bedrooms is also very good, but not great. It’s a good seventh novel, for it’s roughly all six before it rolled into on. Ellis touches on similar themes such as Los Angeles vampires (The Informers), uber-violent sexual behavior (American Psycho), and where the lead character is haunted by ghosts, dreams, and symbols of the past (Lunar Park).
I’ve been reading reviews of Imperial Bedrooms where the reviewer has stated that they do not feel Ellis has evolved much as a writer. I agree that nothing much has changed in Ellis style of writing (except for the attempt of a semblance of three act structure in Lunar Park and Imperial Bedrooms), but do we really want Ellis to change? Would we actually like it if he started writing more like his peers? Ellis is good at was he does- writing flat stories with flat characters that we somehow relate to even though we’re not nearly as fucked up as they are.
Though I was left scratching my head after reading Imperial Bedrooms (What has Clay been doing for the past 25 years? How did he get so violent?), I’m always left scratching my head after reading Ellis. Then I stop scratching and begin daydreaming about lying next to a pool at someone’s multi-million dollar mid-century house, next to someone who is beautiful, who I may or may not be sleeping with but never really gave a shit about in the first place.