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Guest Post: Jamaal Reviews American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho

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American Psycho

by Bret Easton Ellis

Psychological Thriller / Satire
Vintage, 1991
Paperback
416 pages

What is the price for social acceptance? What is it inside all of us that longs to ‘fit in’? Why, even when we know we are being completely fake, do we continue to be someone we are not, just so others will allow us into their circles? These were just some of the questions that continued to run through my head as I read Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.

Patrick Bateman is, by all appearances, the epitome of the American Dream. Young, successful, bright, and attractive, Patrick’s biggest concerns seem to be whether or not he has reservations at the trendiest restaurant, or what color pocket square to wear with his designer suit. He is meticulous about his appearance, going through numerous rituals to ensure that his skin is flawless, and his hair is perfect. He is the smug guy that you see walking down the street, spewing nonsense into his cellular phone, and the dreamy guy that your wife wishes that she could spend just one night with.

But Patrick Bateman is also a monster. Dictionary.com describes a ‘sociopath’ as “a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.” After reading American Psycho, however, I feel that Patrick Bateman is the new definition of the word. Even though he seems to fit in with everyone in his circle, his utter detachment and lack of feeling for anyone or anything is noticeable to anyone who is willing to pay attention. He drifts in and out of conversations with ease, and it generally goes unnoticed by the person(s) involved in said conversation. Bateman has mastered the art of being ‘Socially Antisocial,’ almost to the point where, even though his body is present, there is nothing else about him that is there.

In addition to being an unforgiving sociopath, Patrick Bateman is a cold-blooded murderer. There is no discrimination in those that he targets: the bum on the street who spelled ‘homeless’ incorrectly; a colleague who he feels a tinge of envy toward; the call girl who, unfortunately, was his choice of companion for the evening. Everyone who met their demise from the hands of Patrick Bateman suffered; there is no such thing as a ‘mercy kill’ in his world. If the victim doesn’t suffer, Patrick himself does.

What makes Patrick Bateman–and as an extension, American Psycho–so intriguing is the descriptive nature of Bret Easton Ellis’ writing. Whether it is outlining the layout of Patrick’s upscale apartment, describing why Whitney Houston was the quintessential singer of the 80s, or explaining how Patrick used a starved rat to eat a woman from the inside, it all gives you the type of mental picture that even a movie longs to deliver. While reading each word, you feel as though you have been transported to Patrick Bateman’s world: into his mind and his every feeling. And while American Psycho succeeds at making you feel the entire spectrum of emotion, the one that stuck the most with me was sympathy.

Patrick Bateman is the ultimate sympathetic figure. He has so perfectly manicured his appearance and actions that, throughout the book, he is confused for other people. Instead of correcting those mistakes, he plays along. He is in a loveless relationship with a woman who is just as detached as he is, so their interactions always seem forced and uncomfortable. As the book progresses, Patrick’s actions become more gruesome and more frequent. His victims’ suffering equates to the one thing that Patrick longs for in his life: attention. The more pain he inflicts, the more attention the victims give him, which is a prize of sorts to him. When his victims’ eyes fill with fear, they also fill with the acknowledgment of Patrick. They are aware of his presence, which is something that no one else in his world seems to be aware of, or care for.

In the beginning I asked why we, as human beings, try so hard to fit in with others? American Psycho never really answers this question: in fact, I feel that the answer is left purposely ambiguous. It does, however, show us what happens when a person tries so hard to fit in that he loses sight of himself. Patrick Bateman wanted so badly to be accepted, he became the one thing that he feared: invisible. And it was this invisibility that brought out the monster in him, causing him to express his pain and sadness the only way he knew how…murder.

3 out of 5 stars for American Psycho

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(Click here to learn more about Bret Easton Ellis.)

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{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Megan Granger (@MegsGranger) December 12, 2011, 9:49 pm

    Wonderful review, Jamaal!

    One thing I would add: The book was meant to be a commentary on the ’80s, specifically. The materialism, the superficiality, the way no one really listened to what anyone else was saying. At numerous points in the story, Patrick lets his crazy thoughts reach his lips and none of his friends even acknowledge it. In my opinion, that is where the true brilliance of the narrative lies: in the commentary on that particular decade’s mind-set. That’s why the current plans to remake this movie and set it in present-day New York make me a little crazy.

    • Jamaal December 12, 2011, 10:15 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment, Megan!

      I agree completely with what you are saying I wasn’t aware that they were going to remake the movie, but maybe they could focus more on the character of Patrick, as opposed to his ravenous side, which I felt the first movie focused a little TOO much on (although I am a HUGE fan of the movie). I’m not so sure about setting it in present-day, however.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  • Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) March 19, 2012, 4:57 am

    Nice review Jamaal – some intelligent, original ideas. I’m not sure “Patrick Bateman is the ultimate sympathetic figure”, despite being part of a faceless group of yuppies. What about him do you think should garner sumpathy from the reader – I certainly didn’t feel any?

    My review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

    • Jamaal March 19, 2012, 10:37 am

      Thanks for the comment, Matthew. My idea about Bateman being a sympathetic figure came from his longing to be accepted. While reading the book, I kept getting the vision of the outcast high school student, who wants nothing more to be a part of the in-crowd. He has all of the tools, but none of the ability. Of course, that doesn’t excuse any of his actions; but underneath all of those despicable layers, he was no more than a sad, lonely child trapped in a man’s body/world.

      • Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) March 26, 2012, 7:58 am

        I can see where you’re coming from there. I certainly think Bateman feels the need to prove something to the world – to fit in. I’m not sure I can see him as a sympathetic character though; beyond his acts, what he represents is just too repugnant to create any feeling of empathy. Yours is a really interesting reading though – I enjoyed it.

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