American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis, is a book that I would advise readers to approach with caution. It is brutal and searing in its study of the wealthy with their heightened sense of entitlement and need for validation from their peers. It is deeply depressing how recognisable the packs of men and the vacuous women they seek out appear. This is an intense study of the worst of humanity – the uncaring, self made millionaires whose lives revolve around how they are seen by others. What is offered is a world filled by conspicuous consumption and instant gratification. It is a world devoid of hope.
The protagonist, Patrick Bateman, is twenty-six years old. He has a model’s good looks, a gym honed body and an apparently effortless sense of style that his wealth enables him to display. When socialising with his Wall Street peers he is often mistaken for others like himself, just as he regularly recognises colleagues who turn out to be someone else. With their slicked back hair, non-prescription glasses and designer clothes they stand out from the crowds yet are clones.
Patrick and his ilk date women who are young, wealthy and beautiful. They are also seriously messed up. To the men they are accessories, facile and desired only for sex. The men eye up ‘hardbodies’ with any female not of their desired shape and age despised. It matters to them that they are seen in the latest restaurant or club. Image is all.
Patrick is regarded by these men and women as gentle, amusing, a boy next door. He is anything but. In his tastefully decorated, perfectly located apartment he amuses himself by watching hard core, violent pornography. He then picks up or pays young women to act out his sexual fantasies which become increasingly bloody and grotesque.
Patrick is a psychopath seeking to feel something in his empty life. The descriptions of his treatment of these women as he demands certain sex acts then assaults them, torturing and mutilating their bodies before dismembering and disposing of the parts, are horrific and disturbing, gratuitous in their detail. Nothing is left to the imagination. It is sickening but this is, of course, the point. I found it challenging to read.
I felt that the author was messing with my head. The fact that he could imagine such scenes in order to write them down is beyond my comprehension.
Interspersed with these violent acts are many dinners and dates, conversations where little is said. There are chapters where Patrick opines about music. He visits the gym, describes his beauty regime. He observes the clothes those around him wear, taunts the homeless and worries about the quality of his business card or his ability to secure a reservation at an ‘in’ place. He sees what his life has become but, when he tries to talk about it, encounters disinterest. To be a part of the crowd it is required that members follow a script. Those around Patrick see only what they want to see.
This is a clever, powerful but torrid work of literature. The writer’s skill may be admired but it is also deranged. I do not want to consider that someone like Patrick Bateman could exist.