Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 739
Freeways and Billboards
A student at an East Coast college, Clay is a young man on Christmas break, spending his time off in his hometown of Los Angeles. His girlfriend, Blair, picks him up from the airport. One of her comments strikes Clay, and is worked into the rest of the novel at various key moments: "People are afraid to merge onto the freeway in Los Angeles." Clay's repetition of "people are afraid to merge" is an echo of E. M. Forster's phrase "only Connect"— the words that preface A Passage to India—and Ellis's phrase encapsulates the disconnected and empty life he finds back in California.
In the first section of the book Clay describes a series of parties and family meetings leading up to Christmas. He spends time with his friends Daniel, Trent, Julian and Blair; he easily falls back into the promiscuity, parties, and drugs. Clay has one-night stands with men and women, and uses cocaine frequently. Clay's relationships with his family and Blair grow more strained, and he begins repeating the key set of phrases more and more often.
Parties and Cocaine
The narrative shifts through more scenes of parties, nightclubs, and diners. In a thematically significant image, an old lady collapses from the heat at La Scala. The crowd looks on, bored. As the vignettes become more brutal and detached, Clay's memories of time he spent in Palm Springs become more poignant. He remembers closing the family home, and his grandmother's fear of death. In the house of his childhood recollections, "strange desert winds have taken over."
Clay continues to look for Julian, who owes him money. He is now spending more and more time with his dealer, Rip, in abrupt and confused vignettes of people and parties. Clay watches a televangelist preaching about redemption, and the phrase "this is a night of Deliverance" haunts him as he leaves for a meeting with Blair. Their date is awkward, and on the way home Blair hits a coyote in the road. Clay watches the animal die for ten minutes. Later he and Blair go home and have passionate sex.
Clay's cocaine use escalates, and it results in more nosebleeds, just as his memories of his grandmother's cancer envision her coughing up blood. At Trent's party in Malibu, the crowd is fascinated by a snuff film depicting the brutal torture and murder of two young people. Daniel, who is aroused by the film, says he's not coming back to college with Clay because he is going to make violent sex movies. As his Los Angeles friends become stranger, Clay stops going to the psychiatrist.
The Girl on the Bed
After visiting his old elementary school, Clay finals runs into Julian, who tells him to come to Finn's house to get the...
(The entire section contains 739 words.)
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