Published by Vintage on June 1998
Source: my shelves
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Sex, drugs and New Wave 80’s pop music: each of these things has a dominating presence in Bret Easton Ellis’ debut book, Less Than Zero. From the first page, Less Than Zero takes you on a whirlwind ride of detached teenage angst, loneliness and sexual debauchery. While disturbing at times, it is an earnest, heartfelt look into the lives of the over-privileged.
Less Than Zero is the story of Clay, born and raised in the glamorous city of Los Angeles, who—upon returning home from New Hampshire for Christmas break—goes through four weeks of internal revelation that leaves the reader feeling both sympathy and anger toward him and his group of friends.
When first picking up the book, I was intrigued by the fact that Ellis is also the author of American Psycho, whose film adaptation is one of my favorite movies. The dark, fascinating reality of that movie pales in comparison to the words in Less Than Zero. When reading the book, I instantly got the feeling that every one of the characters was missing something and it wasn’t until I finished the book that I realized what it was: none of the characters had any semblance of emotion. Whether it was being shown in the sexual ambiguity of all of the characters, the rampant drug use, or the way that every relationship in the book was contrived and formed only because the other person had something that was desired by their “friend”, Less Than Zero is a classic example of how people who have too much in the way of materialistic items end up having nothing of substance that they can turn to.
Bret Easton Ellis’ style of writing can be considered erratic, at best: run-on sentences and unfinished thoughts and settings are a staple of this book. But the adjustment to this style is quick, and I soon found that the writing in the book was reflective of the way the human mind works, jumping from subject to subject, searching for things to fill the silence.
This book was a definite page turner; one that I didn’t want to put down, for fear that I would quickly reassociate myself with reality and lose touch with the characters that had so easily grown on me. With each incident that occurred in the book, no matter how grotesque, I found myself riveted by the way the characters could detach themselves from what they considered everyday life, and justify those instances by referring to the access that their lifestyles afforded them. There is one exchange of dialogue in the book that stands out for me, that I feel perfectly epitomizes the frame of mind that these teenagers are in. Clay is speaking to one of his friends and he asks, “What DON’T you have?” at which his friend responds, “I don’t have anything to lose.” The context of this conversation instantly caused both a rush of sympathy and a twinge of detest in me. That response can be taken both as an act of spoiled defiance as well as a cry for help. Less Than Zero is filled with moments like this. It was what made the book such an interesting read.
While I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone still in their teens (the explicit acts and constant drug references aren’t necessarily geared toward young, impressionable minds), this is definitely a book that I would recommend to someone who wants to escape their reality by entering a pseudo-reality that so few have access to, yet was so brilliantly described by Bret Easton Ellis. Many books can only be read one time; Less Than Zero is one that can be read multiple times, with each reading opening up a different sense of appreciation than the last. Out of five stars, this book would receive four from this reader.
About the contributor: Jamaal is a good friend of Heather’s who resides in Southern California. He is an avid reader, movie buff, and enjoys writing and hip-hop music. You can read his blog, …Quiet as a lion’s roar, on Tumblr or you can find him on Twitter as @AbeautifulDECAY.