In 1985, at the age of twenty-one, Bret Easton Ellis created a sensation when he published Less than Zero. A California novel influenced by the deadpan style of Joan Didion, Less than Zero depicted in a nonjudgmental way the youthful nihilism, drug use, and music video culture of its time period. After its success, Ellis found himself rapidly becoming part of the so-called Brat Pack of young authors, including Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz, who were often seen clubbing together in New York City. Since that heady early period, Ellis has had to work to approximate the level of his youthful success.
After his second college novel, The Rules of Attraction, earned less notice but still sold well, Ellis’s third work, American Psycho, with its portrait of a rich New York serial killer, scandalized Simon & Schuster’s editors so much that they refused to publish it. Sonny Mehta of Knopf bought the rights to the work, and it quickly became one of the most reviled, criticized, and best-selling novels of its day. As Ellis received death threats, Norman Mailer came to the book’s defense in Vanity Fair, and the novel was boycotted by the National Organization for Women (NOW) for its graphic sexual crimes. Since then, American Psycho has been the subject of numerous critical studies, in part because of its extreme portrait of Reagan-era consumerism. After the controversy died down, Ellis published a collection of short fiction, The Informers (1994), and another ambitious conspiracy novel, Glamorama (1998), which juxtaposed the fashion industry with terrorism.
Now entering his forties, Ellis can no longer hold the title of the voice of transgressive youth, and he must make the awkward transition to adulthood. For Lunar Park, he has chosen to fictionalize himself as a protagonist so that he can satirize the media-constructed image of himself as a rebellious and wildly successful author. He also turned to one of his favorite writers of his youthStephen Kingto supply him with a horror genre. The result is a kind of hybrid metafictional novel of dread that borrows liberally from Ellis’s life and his estranged relationship with his father to form a kind of postmodern William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (pr. c. 1600-1601) of the New England suburbs.
Given such juicy material to satirizehis own celebrityEllis begins the novel in a highly self-conscious form. He begins by calling attention to the relative concision of the opening sentence, “You do an awfully good impression of yourself,” then compares it to the opening sentences of his previous novels, which he then lists in order. Next, he gives a succinct overview of his scandal-mongering career, exaggerating the excesses of his fame to humorous effect. He notes how Less than Zero “was mistaken for autobiography” but was largely comprised of scenes taken from “lurid rumors that whispered through the group, [he] hung with in L.A.” In the same way, he creates fictions about his own fame that gently lampoon the press’s interest in him and its distortions. Thus, the Brat Pack’s “antics included food fights, hurling lobsters and hosing one another down with bottles of Dom Perignon” in New York’s fanciest restaurants.
The big difference, however, between this mock-Ellis and the real one is that in the course of the fictional Ellis’s career he has fathered a child, Robbie, with a film star named Jayne Dennis. He disputes his parenthood, claiming in court that the child’s father is actually Keanu Reeves, who was starring in a motion picture with Dennis at the time, but DNA tests have proven him the father. Later, after his rock-star excesses of drugs and depravity have brought him to a new low after the grinding international reading tour promoting Glamorama, Ellis abruptly marries Jayne, takes responsibility for his estranged son, now eleven, and Jayne’s daughter from another union, five-year-old Sarah. They all move to the New England suburbs to try to lead a normal life. Ellis begins to write a new novel titled Teenage Pussy, takes on a small creative writing teaching post at the local college, and settles down to upper-class suburbia, which he calls “a refuge for the less competitive: it was the minor leagues.” Given that Ellis’s protagonists have usually defined themselves as distinctly urban and hiply single socialites, usually along the axis between Los Angeles and New York, it is funny to see Ellis try to adjust himself to family lifetrick or treating with his children and attending couples therapy sessions. He finds that he does not mind the suburbs as...
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