21 July 2010
Before I commence with my review of Bret Easton Ellis' latest novel, Imperial Bedrooms, I want to take a moment to expound on my views on Criticism -- and Critics, in general. Philosophically, I am against the whole enterprise. I've never understood the compulsion to write about a work of art that wasn't any good. I'd much rather write about a work of art that inspired, enlightened, enthralled, or empowered me. As is true with people, I would rather prefer not to engage with someone or something that does not interest me. Clearly, my views are my own; they're highly flawed, and my position wide open to numerous attacks. The real reasoning here is to act as a segue to my review of Imperial Bedrooms.
As a rule, I love Bret Easton Ellis' writing. At his best, he's the preeminent satiric voice of our generation (being the hyper-materalistic mass communication savvy proud philistinism of the past 30 years). He is savage, unrelenting, infinitely self-reflexive, and horrifically hilarious. From my very first reading of American Psycho at the tender age of nineteen, I have been an absolute Easton Ellis devotee. I instantly devoured (pun intended) every piece of his writing, enthralled by the totality of the literary universe he had created. Like so many great writers before him (I'm thinking Faulkner), he engendered his own creations into an already familiar world of celebrities, socialites, and the uber-rich. Collective apathy strikes a central chord. Confusion is rampant. Substance exists only as a worthless commodity to be scorned and ridiculed. As Victor Ward, the male model "protagonist" of Glamorama, dismisses whenever challenged about the minutia of his shallowness: "Spare me."
And then something disheartening happened. As brilliantly relayed in Lunar Park, Easton Ellis, the man (as opposed to the character), had always been part of the world he so viciously skewered. Like Fitzgerald before him, his work has so much bite because it's filled with intense self-loathing, a self-loathing borne out of a desperate desire to be accepted and inculcated into a world they both inherently despised, but were nonetheless inescapably addicted to. What set them apart, however, was that they remained ever the hawkish observers, and consummate craftsmen. In Fitzgerald's case, if his work suffered, it wasn't out of laziness or complacency, but deepening depression and almost unthinkable alcohol abuse. With Easton Ellis, it seems he's finally caved into the world he'd battled against since his shockingly precocious first novel, Less Than Zero, and peaked out with American Psycho.
Imperial Bedrooms, meant as a sequel to Zero, feels like half an effort, a middling cash-out, like a final semester paper that was begun the night before and completed just before dawn, barely reaching the exact minimum required word count. Gone is the forceful condemning satire, the insanely labyrinthian self-reflexivity, the endless burrowing into the nothingness that is possible in our postmodern American souls. Instead, we get a rehashing of the same themes: paranoia, drugs, voyeurism, sexual manipulation, and perfect looking chicks.
At a mere 164 pages, it flies by so fast you forgot you were reading anything cohesive at all, just some stupid vignettes about even stupider amoral people. Not only did I not care about the characters, I didn't even care about not caring about them.
As I mentioned before, I loathe to write about something I dislike. And truth be told, Bedrooms does contain a few redeeming qualities. The ever-present sharp wit is still there, and no one can roast the inherent absurdism of a current fad like Easton Ellis. But from an author whom I love, whom I've personally witnessed achieve momentously transcending literary greatness, to just fade away the way he has is saddening. Like a star quarterback who keeps on coming back even though the only play he really has mastery over is the screen pass. Does he really need the money? Hasn't his ego been thoroughly stroked with the meteoric success he achieved over twenty-five years ago?
Easton Ellis likes to epigram his books with song lyrics, often adopting David Byrne's Talking Heads' repetoire...so allow me to follow in suit, from 'Psycho Killer' (apt choice I'd say!) although instead as an epitaph to his writing career:
"When I have nothing to say
my lips are sealed
Say something once
Why say it again?"