”Patrick Bateman moves among the young and trendy in 1980s Manhattan. Young, handsome, and well educated, Bateman earns his fortune on Wall Street by day while spending his nights in ways we cannot begin to fathom. Expressing his true self through torture and murder, Bateman prefigures an apocalyptic horror that no society could bear to confront.”
Thoughts: In American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis explores the social dynamic of the young, wealthy, and powerful in New York City in the 1980s. Among this circle walks Patrick Bateman, a modern-day Dorian Gray with his modelesque good looks, insane wealth, and fabulous connections. However, just like Dorian Gray, Bateman has a sinister side that manifests itself in grisly fashion.
How can one describe Patrick Bateman? While he is intensely handsome, his personality is as prickly as a porcupine. His narcissism and subsequent obsessive-compulsiveness are epic, with his concerns about his physique, his hair, and his clothes overriding concern about anything else. His treatment of women is appalling but is status quo for those within his peer circle. The society of which he is a prominent member is shockingly superficial and anonymous, as his peers frequently misidentify each other while discussing such vital topics as the correct way to wear a cummerbund or debating belts versus suspenders.
“I still hold on to one bleak truth – no one is safe, nothing is redeemed”
Surprisingly, American Psycho is as much a satire as it is a horror story. The rules to which Bateman is bound are inane, made more so by the rules which he flouts with a flourish. In Bateman’s world dress codes, rental policies, dining etiquette, and overall rules of appearance are more important than breaking the law. The discussion about clients who ate broiled scallops, and his utter lack of knowledge about what broiled meant, as well as his confusion as to the lack of shaped meat, flowers, sauces, or overall general food appearance, is quite comical. Expensive automatically means good, and Bateman competes with his friends to spend the most on up-and-coming artwork, have the most elaborate and costly business cards, and carry the most prestigious briefcases. These scenes are a scathing commentary made amusing by the inanity of it all.
“My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago”
When Bateman is not busy dining on the latest haute cuisine in the trendiest of the trendy restaurants, he spends his free time sleeping with, torturing, killing, and mutilating prostitutes. He does so dispassionately and without any disregard for his own personal safety or anonymity. In fact, one could argue that his need to be seen as well as his need to overcome the despair of his own loneliness forces him to take unnecessary risks like killing a panhandler under a streetlight on an occupied street. The moments where he does lose control are a direct counterpoint to all of the other times he keeps his emotions under a tight rein and are all the more frightening for their foreignness.
“I am simply not there”
The calmness by which he violates the dead body of his most recent victim and the tranquility that occurs within him as he decorates his person or his apartment with body parts are both utterly horrifying and at the same time profoundly depressing. Bateman, for all of his mental instability, is so alone. His circle of friends is not conducive to BFFs, as they all compete to be the best trader, the best-dressed, the wealthiest, etc. He has no one in whom he can confide, no one to ease his isolation. The scenes with his mother provides insight as to how a person could become so detached from the real world, and one cannot help but feel sorry for Bateman and the doomed life into which he was born and bred.
For a novel with some of the most horrifying, gory, and disturbing scenes ever put on the page, Pablo Schreiber does an admirable job narrating Patrick Bateman. He captures Bateman’s dissociation, his complete lack of emotion, and his general apathy of life. His characterizations of the female voices tend toward the stereotypical, but this does nothing but highlight Bateman’s and his friends’ misogyny towards women. The confusion Bateman exhibits as the narrative progressives is palpable, while his matter-of-fact descriptions of certain scenes are absolutely chilling in their atonality. Bateman is a tough character to make somewhat sympathetic, but Mr. Schreiber is able to do so. Mr. Schreiber is more than up to the challenge of capturing all facets of Bateman’s character, making American Psycho tremendously effective as an audiobook.
Is Bateman a psychopath or completely delusional? While the killings are told in vividly brutal detail, the fact remains that a reader never knows if they are actually occurring or are simply figments of Bateman’s grotesque and very active imagination, and readers can argue for either position with great success. Regardless of whether they are fact or imagination, Mr. Easton Ellis portrays a world which most people will never experience and excels at highlighting why one would not want to do so.
Mr. Easton Ellis has described American Psycho as his most autobiographical, and a reader walks away from the novel with a profound feeling of sympathy for him. Bateman’s sense of seclusion is complete and upsetting in its absoluteness, and one knows on an intuitive level that Mr. Easton Ellis experienced a similar feeling of loneliness and total isolation. American Psycho is a horror story but one that terrorizes by more than blood and gore. It is a novel that leaves a reader raw with visceral emotion and numb to the horror that one man can envision or enact on another in a primitive and total cry for help. In spite of its grisliness, American Psycho is a brilliant piece of social commentary. It is no wonder it remains Mr. Easton Ellis’ most popular work of fiction to date.
Acknowledgements: Mine. All mine.