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Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis (born March 7, 1964 in Los Angeles, California) is an American novelist and short story writer. Ellis was born to a wealthy California household. He attended Bennington College, where he met and befriended fellow writers Donna Tartt (The Secret History), Jonathan Lethem, Francis Lombard and Joseph McLaughlin, none of whom were aware of his literary aspirations. After rising to fame with Less Than Zero in 1985, Ellis became closely associated and good friends with fellow Brat Pack writer Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City): the two became known as the “toxic twins”. He is a self-proclaimed satirist, whose trademark technique, as a writer, is the expression of extreme acts and opinions in an affectless style. Ellis employs a technique of linking novels with common, recurring characters.

Though Ellis made his debut at 21 with the controversial 1985 bestseller Less Than Zero, a zeitgeist novel about amoral young people in Los Angeles, the work he is most known for is his third novel, 1991’s American Psycho.

Ellis’ first novel, Less Than Zero, a tale of disaffected, rich teenagers of Los Angeles, was praised by critics and sold well (50,000 copies in its first year). He moved back to New York City in 1987 for the publication of his second novel, The Rules of Attraction, which follows a group of sexually promiscuous college students and sold fairly well, though Ellis admits he felt he had “fallen off”, after the novel failed to match the success of his debut effort. His most controversial work is the graphically violent American Psycho. On its release, the literary establishment widely condemned the novel as overly violent and misogynist; though many petitions to ban the book saw Ellis dropped by Simon & Schuster, the resounding controversy made it a paperback bestseller for Vintage later that year.The book was intended to be published by Simon & Schuster, but they withdrew after external protests from groups such as the National Organisation for Women (NOW) and many others due to the allegedly misogynistic nature of the book. Some consider this novel, whose protagonist, Patrick Bateman, is both a cartoonishly materialistic yuppie and a serial killer, to be an example of transgressive art. American Psycho has achieved considerable cult status.

His collection of short stories, The Informers, was published in 1994. It contains vignettes of wayward Los Angeles characters ranging from rock stars to vampires, mostly written while Ellis was in college, and so has more in common with the style of Less Than Zero. Ellis has said that the stories in The Informers were collected and released only to fulfill a contractual obligation after discovering that it would take far longer to complete his next novel than he’d intended. After years of struggling with it, Ellis released his fourth novel Glamorama in 1998. Glamorama is set in the world of high fashion, following a male model who becomes entangled in a bizarre terrorist organization composed entirely of other models. The book plays with themes of media, celebrity, and political violence, and like its predecessor American Psycho it uses surrealism to convey a sense of postmodern dread. Ellis’s novel Lunar Park (2005), uses the form of a celebrity memoir to tell a ghost story about the novelist “Bret Easton Ellis” and his chilling experiences in the apparently haunted home he shares with his wife and son. In keeping with his usual style, Ellis mixes absurd comedy with a bleak and violent vision. Imperial Bedrooms (2010) follows the characters of Less Than Zero 25 years later; it combines the violence ofAmerican Psycho and the postmodernity of Lunar Park with the unaltered ennui of Ellis’ debut novel.

Ellis often uses recurring characters and settings. Major characters in one novel may become minor ones in the next, or vice versa. Camden College, a fictional New England liberal arts college, is frequently referenced. It is based on Bennington College, which Ellis himself attended, there are oblique connections between it and Ellis’ Rules of Attraction. Though his three major settings are Vermont, Los Angeles and New York, he doesn’t think of these novels as about these places; they are intentionally more universal than that.

In American Psycho (1991), Patrick’s brother Sean appears briefly. Paul Denton and Victor Johnson from The Rules of Attraction are both mentioned. Camden is referred to as both Sean’s college and the college a minor character named Vanden is going to. Vanden was referred to (but never appeared) in both Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction. Passages from “Less Than Zero” reappear, almost verbatim, here, with Patrick replacing Clay as narrator. Patrick also makes repeated references to Jami Gertz, the actress who portrays Blair in the 1987 film adaptation of Less Than Zero. Allison Poole from Jay McInerney’s 1988 novel Story of My Life appears as a torture victim of Patrick’s. 1994’s The Informers features a much-younger Timothy Price, one of Patrick’s co-workers in American Psycho, who narrates one chapter. One of the central characters, Graham, buys concert tickets from Less Than Zero‘s Julian, and his sister Susan goes on to say that Julian sells heroin and is a male prostitute (as shown in Zero). Alana and Blair from Zero are also friends of Susan’s. Letters to Sean Bateman to a Camden College girl named Anne visiting grandparents in LA comprise the eighth chapter.

Patrick Bateman appears briefly in Glamorama (1998); Glamorama’s main characters Victor Ward and Lauren Hynde were first introduced in The Rules of Attraction. As a in-joke reference to Bateman being portrayed by Christian Bale in the then-in-production 2000 film adaptation, the actor himself briefly appears as a background character.

Four of Ellis’ works have been made into films; notably, Less Than Zero (1987) was rapidly adapted for screen, and Mary Harron’s adaptation of American Psycho was released to predominantly positive reviews in 2000 as was Roger Avery’s The Rules of Attraction in 2002. The Informers (2008) was awful.

In later years, Ellis’ novels have become increasingly metafictional. 2005’s Lunar Park, a pseudo-memoir and ghost story, received positive reviews, and 2010’s Imperial Bedrooms, marketed as a sequel to Less Than Zero, continues in this vein. He is prolific on twitter… follow him.

7 responses

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