Published by Vintage on March 1991
Genres: Psychological Thriller, Satire
Source: my shelves
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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
(Click here to learn more about Bret Easton Ellis.)
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