American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

This is the second time I have read America Psycho, and I still love this book. The book follows the delusional life of Patrick Bateman. Someone who is supposed to have everything and yet is entirely bored and unsatisfied. I will admit that a lot of this book can and does come across as dull and repetitive. There is a never-ending string of lunches, dinners, the guys drinking at the clubs, doing lots of coke (and I don’t mean the soda), and the obsession with how much their clothing cost and who is wearing what.
First and foremost, this book is written as a satire by an unreliable narrator. Patrick Bateman comes across as knowing everything. He works in a high paying job, and he discusses down to the detail what he has and why. Everyone around him is very superficial from their clothes to the places they go to dinner. The business card scene, I think is the best example of this. Bateman and his friends are sitting around the table discussing woman and drinking. Bateman pulls out his card and the others do the same. They can’t be outdone by each other over a business card. The scene ends with, “I’m still tranced out on Montgomery’s card—the classy coloring, the thickness, the lettering, and the print—and I suddenly raise a fist to strike out at Craig and scream…,” (Ellis 46). Bateman gets upset over a little insignificant piece of paper. The movie does a great job with this scene.
There is a chapter titled End of the 1980s. Here we see Bateman sitting trying to get through another lunch this time with his assistant Jane. As he sits there, he starts to almost reflect on who he is and his life. There is a line that I think sums up his perception of the world, “Reflection is useless, the word is senseless. Evil is its only performance. God is not alive. Love cannot be trusted. Surface, surface, surface was that anyone found meaning in…this was a civilization as I saw it colossal and jagged…” (375). His internal thoughts show that everything he sees and does is superficial and meaningless. Not even love is something he can trust or find faith in. It is all fake to him as is the world he lives in.
I think Bateman works as an unreliable narrator. If this was told by someone who was technically sane, I do not feel it would have pulled me into the story. I would have lost interest and put the book down. He spirals out of control as the story progresses and we see that he is not to be trusted with anything he says. This ties into the idea that the book is really about hell. The opening line in the book is from Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon all hope ye who enters here is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank…,” (3). As we walk into the story, we are taking a trip through hell through the mind of Bateman. This is where I think the book works with all its never-ending repetitive scenes. Even the murder scenes are repetitive imaginations from Bateman’s mind. He keeps reliving them and adding more gruesome ways to murder these people in his head.
Ellis did a great job with this idea that we make our own hell. Bateman could have at any time gotten helped with his issues, but he chose to stay stuck in a rut to keep up appearances. He can’t be viewed as less or different for the others within his inner circle. The book begins and ends with Bateman at yet another lunch with his friends that he cannot escape from. The story fittingly ends with, “above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes…on the sign, the letters that match the drapes color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.” Everything begins and ends in blood.

6 thoughts on “American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

  1. Bateman is definitely a prime example of an unreliable narrator. He’s almost too unreliable because we don’t know what we can and can’t believe. As a reader, I start to flounder a bit, feeling lost and just wanting an anchor point from which to judge the rest of the novel. There’s a fine line with unreliable narrators and I think at some point Ellis loses sight of the story he’s trying to tell because he’s so in love with Bateman as a literary device.

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    • I agree that he’s an unreliable narrator. Part of the reason I liked the U2 concert chapter is that it provided an anchor point for me. I went to that U2 concert so I know it really happened. One of my problems with Bateman is that at his core he’s a guy who has wet dreams about murdering people, so why waste 400+ pages talking about him? Is he worth that much space?

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  2. I really like how we can really grasp how unreliable Bateman is as a narrator throughout the story. I couldn’t tell if what he was saying was fact or fiction but the gruesome parts seemed real and fake at the same time. I really liked the end of page 152 when Bateman doesn’t even finish his sentence before the next chapter starts. I felt like Ellis did a great job of portraying the mind of a psychopath but almost went too far into his head.

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  3. Adding to George’s comment, I totally missed the Dante’s Inferno references as well. I like your point that this is Bateman’s own personal hell, and we go through this hell with him, which is what makes this such a frustrating read.

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