rules of attraction

It’s hard to explain what’s so good about Bret Easton Ellis’s books. On one hand, their themes are obvious and extremely blunt. On the other, the execution is subtle and sublime. I’ve read three of his books: American Psycho, Less than Zero, and now Rules of Attraction, in that order. In all of them, though less so in American Psycho, the characters lead pointless lives, revellilng in excess and hedonism. Their lives are so excessive as to be hard to believe, but the exposition of it is so dry that it’s as if nothing is occuring, despite the ongoing orgy of sex, drugs, and (sometimes) murder. Then, in the last few pages, there is – well, not a moment of enlightenment. A character may experience a passing thought, just the shadow of introspection, and the utter meaninglessness of his life is made more apparent than ever, and it’s a crushing force brought to bear on the reader.

It reminds me of Silence of the Lambs: we’re told that Lecter brutally murdered a number of people while making an escape, his heart rate never rising above fifty. The narrators of Ellis’s books are the same: they are so completely overwhelmed with ennui that nothing moves them. One character, in Rules of Attraction, runs after a departing lover, saying, “I was running because it felt like the ‘right’ thing to do. It was a chance to show some emotion. I wasn’t acting on passion. I was simply acting. Because it seemed the only thing to do. It seemed like something I had been told to do. By who, or by what, was vague.”

I think I need a break before I read another of his books, to avoid burnout, but I’m definitely going to try to read my way through them all. Reading, now, the second of his books, I was tickled to see characters from the first and third making appearances. I’m told this continues, and I look forward to more of the pleasure of recognition. (The lowest of the aesthetic pleasures, according to Maugham.)

Written on December 19, 2005
🏷 books