American Psycho is probably a book that disappoints a lot of people. Everyone has heard of it, either because of mumbled whisperings about the shocking content contained therein or as a result of the well received and now almost iconic film of the same name. And you are supposed to like it. It’s literary fiction—but hip enough that literary fiction snobs turn their nose up at it. It’s by Bret Easton Ellis, and he has three names which means he is either a great author or an assassin. Then you read the book, and things don’t go quite like you expect. American Psycho is weird. Maybe worse, it’s boring at times. Ellis has no problem beating you over the head with his metaphors until you either get it or you are as dead as Patrick Bateman’s victims. But if you stick with it and you can survive the endless iterations of clothing brands and their overpriced accessories, you will find one of the true gems of modern American fiction.
Patrick Bateman is a character of his own creation. A wealth investment banker on Wall Street in the Roaring 80s, Bateman is as much a perfectionist of his own appearance, physique, and apartment accoutrements as he is public persona. But it is all a façade, and a thin one at that. Bubbling just below the surface is a psychopath who makes Jack the Ripper look like Mr. Rogers.
We come to know the true Patrick Bateman through his interactions with his co-workers, his lovers, and the prostitutes he often uses as his demented playthings. If you are looking for a redeemable character, you can stop. American Psycho is about a killer in name only. The true horror is Ellis’s depiction of the yuppie culture in the 1980s. I know plenty of people who do not like Ellis’s style of writing or feel like he goes overboard in some of his set pieces, but no one can deny that he is the master of depicting certain cultural periods or events. American Psycho, while not quite as accomplished as Less Than Zero (in my opinion—many would disagree), is as close to the definitive criticism of 80s yuppie culture as we have. Were it not for the gratuitous sex and violence contained therein, they’d probably teach it in [more] schools.
I’m not going to say I really enjoyed American Psycho. On some level, I did. But I found many of the descriptions to be tedious. I found the plot to be overlong at times, particularly given how little actually takes place. But when taken as a whole, American Psycho, while as far as “for everyone” as a book could ever be, is truly a great accomplishment.