Where to start with a book like American Psycho? Does it need an explanation? Well yes… So here’s my take.
American Psycho propelled Bret Easton Ellis to the forefront of transgressive fiction, hell, to the forefront of 90’s American-culture.
It’s strange reading books that at some point have come under scrutiny, or in this case, been outright banned in certain territories. The trials and tribulations of a time long ago can seem silly and fickle to a modern observer.
However, this book is an exception.
Written from a first-person perspective, we’re able to see what Patrick sees and know what he’s thinking; at all times. This means no escape from his psychotic thoughts, much less his actions, which are described in excruciatingly graphic detail.
There’s your warning!
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Talking Heads Epigraph
This epigraph is a clear indication of what we’re letting ourselves in for. A warning of not only the environment of downtown New York but also Bateman’s progressive mental state.
The majority of the book is written in a repetitive nature, making it all blur together, thus creating a difficult read. Add the fact that the first third is relatively empty; this can put a lot of people off. If you don’t have the determination to get through it, then you certainly won’t be prepared for the final two-thirds.
Throughout we’re forced to endure Bateman’s perspective on the world around him. This includes his thoughts which are often; racist, sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic, to name but a few of his psychotic traits.
When compared to his spoken context, he’ll often stand up for these persecuted groups and begin to shame others for using similar slurs. Here is where the book starts to split into two separate entities. (See Reality vs. Perception)
A quiet wall-street conformist by day ravished serial killer by night. Make no mistake though; this is not a cartoony ‘Dexter’ styled killer – Patrick is a full-blooded murderer.
Located in downtown New York, Patrick lives in an executive apartment complex, works at Pierce & Pierce (a major Wall-Street Banking firm) and dines at the latest restaurants.
A stereotypical 1980’s American ‘yuppie’, Patrick follows the guidance of magazine reviews for fashion, dining, and technology. He studies these magazines extensively and often brings them up in dinner conversations, shared with his colleagues and lover, Courtney.
Everyone who knows Bateman sees him as the handsome, quiet guy, with his youthful looks (thanks to his intense morning facial routine) and his charming demeanour, but there is much more bubbling below the surface. A desire to maim, to torture, to kill those who’re around him. Living their boring regular lives; whether this is a homeless man on the street, an eastern European hooker, random ‘hardbodies’ picked up from nightclubs or even his business associates.
As a narcissist, Bateman’s only concerned with himself, where he should be seen, who he’s seen with, and what he’s seen wearing. They’re the worries of Bateman’s life.
In summary; Patrick Bateman is a troubled misogynist/racist/homophobic /cannibal (yes this does get brought up in the later sections) whose sole intent as a narrator seems to be one of self-glorification. You’re not supposed to like him, and it often feels like Bateman himself knows this.
Reality vs. Perception
As mentioned above, Bateman seems completely harmless; somewhat of a ‘mummies-boy’ on the surface.
Questions of his childhood, where he’s from, and what he’s done are left unanswered; except during a fit of rage, he describes how at 14 he raped the family maid. Nevertheless, we can’t entirely trust him when he enters into these frenzies as they often appear to portray Patrick’s desire for control – For the power that he doesn’t have in his day-to-day life.
His brother Sean is introduced into the chapter ‘Birthday, Brothers’ however their dinner chat is nothing short of shallow, referencing little about their Mother (a resident of a local mental institution). Bateman does state that he despises his brother and the feeling is likely mutual.
Bateman often brings up serial killers in conversation, as illustrated by this quote. This short passage gives us a sense of the depths that Bateman becomes obsessed with certain topics, the same as he does with Fashion, Technology, etc.
Except for this time, serial killers, and psychotic killing, which in general, manifest themselves in his subconscious; until he begins to take action.
From then onwards, it’s very much at the front of his mind.
Just one chapter later Bateman’s obsession with serial killers is spoken of again.
This time the focus is on Leatherface, although comically misidentified as Featherhead.
Our next port of call…
Misidentification is a large measure of American Psycho. The characters speak in the same manner, worry about the same things (nightclub locations, restaurants, clothes) and even act the same when spotting another ‘big-city banker’ from across the room – all blending into one.
This means that additional characters (outside of the main five) are often misidentified.
These statement paragraphs plague the book throughout, blending external characters seamlessly into one entity, the outsider.
Another way to look at this; Bateman himself is always competing for the attention of his peers.
There are several references to background characters, with the wrong name, as they appear to see him, as his group sees others — a total non-entity. Used to play-up Bateman’s isolation this is his constant struggle for admiration.
Violence and Sexual Gratification
Explicit pornographic content and a wildly violent narrative can stun most readers into submission. There are more than several moments in this book when it’s easy to give in, to succumb to the graphic nature of Patrick Bateman.
Critics have delivered countless harsh reviews concerning the violent content of American Psycho, mostly for its unrelenting focus on the graphical aspects, blood, torture, genitalia, and executions.
The one scene that sticks with me most is with a young woman, who he picks up at a nightclub, and then takes to his apartment to torture using household items and a starving rat; which Bateman bought days earlier in preparation. I’ve purposely left out the disturbing details that follow this quote.
Bateman’s meets his sexual needs through obsessive watching of hardcore pornography, and masturbating to violent scenes found in the films he rents. Namely ‘Body Double’.
Bateman’s blasé mentioning of niche pornography, explicit violence, and sexual urges all forming in the same paragraph are some of the most shocking pieces of modern fiction I’ve ever read. I’m sure most of you would agree? Are there any books more graphic than American Psycho?
As with Fight Club, American Psycho has a strong emphasis on consumerism. Yet, unlike Fight Club, the references and indications are less than subtle. Bateman’s constant justification for the latest fashions, technology, jobs (Fisher Account), foods/restaurants is a barrage of intent on his part.
His philosophical view is that of a consumer, somebody who defines himself by the material items he, and others, own. If you’re poor and don’t have these luxuries, i.e. a homeless person, then you’ve no real reason to live.
80’s Pop Culture
There’re countless references to ‘Les Misérables’, which is another topic altogether, in addition to many 80’s pop culture references, explicitly ‘Whitney Houston’ and ‘Huey Lewis And The News’. Artist David Onica is brought up throughout to laminate Bateman’s status as an art collector, although this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Throughout, Bateman describes both his sexual (mis)adventures and brutal killing sprees in the same way he does his morning cleansing routine; in excessive detail that is downright tiresome.
Bateman is an unreliable narrator, repeatedly offering up fantasy as truth. It’s difficult to tell, but I believe that Bateman isn’t trying to deceive the reader and instead, struggles with his reality. Therefore, he’s always in need of breaking out of his little world and trying to take control of the people around him.
His only way of doing so is to kill them in a demeaning and derogatory fashion, except does he?
That’s where misidentification completely throws off all sense of understanding when the characters seemingly reappear at the end of the book.
In conclusion, did Bateman imagine killing those people or did he kill others that he thought were them?
Due to the lack of police inspection, the tidying of the dead bodies and no awareness from those around him, I’m inclined to believe that the murders never took place. Well, not outside of Bateman’s mind at least.
Upon reading American Psycho, I ran to the nearest shopping centre and purchased a Whitney Houston album; her self-titled LP which had four number one hit singles on it, including ‘The Greatest Love of All,’ ‘You Give Good Love’ and ‘Saving All My Love for You,’ plus it won a Grammy Award for best pop vocal performance by a female and two American Music Awards, one for best rhythm and blues single and another for best rhythm and blues video.
On my way home, I mutilated a homeless guy with my pocketknife that sits well in my Valentino Jacket, stabbing him, quickly, in the neck. Above him was a sign and on the sign, in letters that match the colour of his blood, are the words,
‘THIS IS NOT AN EXIT’.
*This may or may not be true?
Have you read American Psycho? What are your thoughts on Bateman’s state of mind? Would you recommend the book to others? Let me know in the comments below.