Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Less Than Zero and Imperial Bedrooms

In 1985, Bret Easton Ellis published his first novel, Less Than Zero; a story about a group of uppity, vacuous teenage characters back home in L.A. for their Christmas break. I first read it nearly three years ago, and I was very taken in by it. I'm intrigued by any story that attempts to get its message across indirectly.

Well, it's now 2010, and Ellis is releasing his newest book, Imperial Bedrooms, which is the story of the same characters, only now they are in midlife. I've been waiting for the publisher's galley copy, and it finally arrived this week. However, I couldn't just jump right into the book; I had to re-read LTZ. It's funny how one's perception of a book changes over time. That being said, my enjoyment of the book waned.

I feel very little sympathy for these characters. They know that they're trapped--at times--by their own wills, but none of them make any effort to escape their own personal hell. The only thing they can bring themselves to do is fuck an assortment of people--it doesn't matter if it's a guy or girl--consume copious amounts of drugs, and move from one place to another with increasing apathy. Nothing makes these people happy. They know it. They fully embrace it.

The climactic moment comes when Clay, the protagonist, and the only one who shows any sign of redemption, goes over to a friend's apartment, and witnesses his friends rape a 12 year old girl. "Why?" he asks. "Why not?" is the response. It's extremely disturbing, on many levels, but not nearly as the things that happen in Ellis' magnum opus, American Psycho. (If you have a weak stomach, I do not recommend reading AP.)

The question now becomes: what happened to the characters? Well...

First off, the book cover is terrible. Look at it. What. The. Fuck? It bears no relevance, at all, to the story. Okay, I got that much out of the way. How was the story? It was crap. Ellis took a mediocre idea and recycled it with elements from all of his other novels. In the first few sentences, he writes himself into the book. Now we're dealing with two narrators: Ellis and Clay. Maybe it's just me, but for the entirety of the novel, I couldn't refrain from replacing the fictional character (Clay) with the author (Ellis).

Most of the usual characters return (Rip, Trent, Blair, and Julian) this time around, but the story focuses mostly on Clay. The premise is that he is a successful screenwriter, and he travels to L.A. to assist in casting auditions for the movie he wrote; along the way he runs into his old friends; mystery and drama ensue.

It's 25 years later, and none of them have gotten any better. Clay enjoys manipulating young women by offering them parts in movies in return for sex; Julian is no longer being pimped out, but rather, pimping out young men; Blair and Trent are now married, but superficially so.

The plot is as thin as a thread: someone has gone missing, and Clay keeps being followed and sent mysterious text messages from a blocked number, and maybe someone wants someone else out of the picture, and a girl wants to be in a movie, but at the cost of her boyfriend, and blah, blah, blah. Although I read the whole thing--all 168 pages of it--I stopped caring nearly halfway into it. If you've read Less Than Zero, Glamorama, and Lunar Park, then you've already read Imperial Bedrooms, and you can probably go ahead and pass.

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