Ready to feel old? It’s now been a full two decades since Vintage Books first published AMERICAN PSYCHO, Bret Easton Ellis’ satirical novel told from the perspective of Patrick Bateman, Wall Street mover and shaker by day, serial killer by night. To celebrate, we asked some of BOOKGASM’s contributors to share their recollections about the controversial work, whether they read it or not, so put away your chainsaws and enjoy.
I’ve unfortunately never actually read it. Saw the movie. When it came out my friend Christi read it and all I remember her mentioning was something about jumper cables on bare breasts and his obsession with name brands. —Brian Winkeler
I was working in a Greek restaurant as a dishwasher when I read AMERICAN PSYCHO. I was 23 and broke and quickly skipped past the infamous torture/murder sequences in favor of Ellis’ equally infamous descriptions of yuppie consumerism run amok. I found myself torn between really, really wanting to be a cokehead asshole in a suit paying $500 for a barely satisfying meal at the latest trendy restaurant, and the more noble, less commercial instincts within me that were informed by my young, wannabe-a-writer idealism. Turned out it was the exact same feeling I had whenever I watched SEX AND THE CITY. That was when I discovered I didn’t want to be (a non-murderous) Patrick Bateman. I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw. —Allan Mott
I rushed out to read LESS THAN ZERO not long after it was first published, as it was being promoted and talked about as probably the most important contemporary novel I was ever likely to read. So I did. And I hated it! Thought it was wholly unoriginal, derivative, and had absolutely nothing to say. So I have not read anything by Bret Easton Ellis since. —Alan Cranis
Every once in a while, a writer comes along that somehow tricks the publishing world into thinking he has talent. Nicholson Baker is one. Joe Eszterhas is another (although to be fair, he tricked Hollywood first). And still another is Bret Easton Ellis. In my recent review of HELL’S DOCTOR, I told the story of how I was compelled to buy AMERICAN PSYCHO after reading a newspaper report of how Ellis’s publisher was so disturbed by the book’s subject matter, they refused to publish it, and thereafter, a small publisher picked it up. I remember heading to Waldenbooks (remember them?) that night and finding three copies on the shelf. Another customer picked one up at the same time — a woman, who commented on reading the same news story. We laughed about “bad press” being the same as “good press.” I bought two other books along with it, just for cover, like the way I would buy other magazines along with my copy of PLAYBOY: “A copy of THE NEW YORKER and VANITY FAIR, please … oh, and that issue of PLAYBOY. I heard they’re running a Normal Mailer interview this month.” The first half of the book was tedious, filled with endless name dropping of brands and clothing labels. Then the violence kicked in and I was disgusted: disgusted at what I read, and disgusted with myself for reading it. It was torture porn. I waited for the twist, the final reveal, the last punchline that would show me that Ellis had a meaning to the whole thing. But it never came. Years later, at a friend’s urging, I watched the movie version and saw the humor, satire and plot twist (that the killings are a figment of Bateman’s sick imagination) that were not evident in the book. It’s one of the few times that I’ve loathed a book, but enjoyed the movie. —Slade Grayson
As far as AMERICAN PSYCHO goes, I’m not a big fan. I first read it while moving to Cambodia in 1999, and the whole time I was like, “What’s the big deal? This book needs more aliens!” —Ryun Patterson
Believe it or not, I’ve never read the book, and only saw five minutes of the film. Serial killers creep me the eff out. Serial killers and snakes. Mostly germs, though. —Joshua Jabcuga
I was in college at the time, when I probably read one novel a year, at best. Simply because of the controversy, and because the title intrigued me, I went to Waldenbooks in Sooner Fashion Mall and bought it. They had it behind the counter, as if it were pornography. I read it in my dorm over the course of maybe three days, much to the dismay of my Christian roommate. I enjoyed it, but have never read anything by Ellis since. Then I loaned it to my brother, who never returned it, and most likely pawned it. What I most remember about the book aren’t the list of grooming tips or the gratuitous Huey Lewis references, but the Habitrail sex scene. To this day, I’m at once still disturbed by that part, yet still peeved it didn’t make it in the movie. —Rod Lott