American Psycho

American Psycho

"American Psycho" is easily the most disturbing book I've ever read. I'm conflicted about how to rate it - does it deserve 5 stars because of its power? I feel like I've been punched in the chest. Or should it get a single star because of its depravity? I certainly wouldn't want to encourage more authors to write books like this.

The book itself is an insane meditation on the violence, sexuality, power, superficiality, commercialization, and pop culture of the modern world. Written from the perspective of a psychopathic wealthy heir / Harvard grad working on image-conscious Wall Street... is this what post-Yale life in New York is like?? Surely not...?

Some of the main themes:

  • sex/music + violence - super creepy how Ellis juxtaposes sensuality/eroticism and strangely detailed analysis of upbeat pop music with the most explicit and disturbing violence I've ever read

  • drugs and an uncertain reality - we're never really sure about the mental state / sanity of our beloved narrator. And everyone Wall Street bro seems to look identical - people keep on being mistaken for each other, over and over again. Bateman and his friends appear to constantly be on drugs.

  • commercial obsession - straight up half the book is just about listing brands of clothing people are wearing and the exclusive restaurants they eat exotic food at. And let's not forget the non-stop analysis of pop music.

Some eerie quotes below

For what seems like a long time I stare at the Black & Decker Handy Knife that lies on the counter next to the sink, plugged into the wall: it's a slicer/peeler with several attachments, a serrated blade, a scalloped blade and a rechargeable handle. (pg 29 - first mention of power tools)

"I just think that's crazy about the tanning bed," I tell Van Patten, though secretly I think it would be a hip luxury except I really have no room for one in my apartment. There are things one could do with it besides getting a tan. (pg 49 - what??)

I have a knife with a serrated blade in the pocket of my Valentino jacket and I'm tempted to gut McDermott with it right here in the entranceway, maybe slice his face open, sever his spine; but Price finally waves us in and the temptation to kill McDermott is replaced by this strange anticipation to have a good time, drink some champagne, flirt with a hardbody, find some blow, maybe even dance to some oldies or that new Janet Jackson song I like. (pg 52 - first flash of violent thought juxtaposed with trashy pop music)

While waiting on the couch in the living room, the Wurlitzer jukebox playing "Cherish" by the Lovin' Spoonful, I come to the conclusion that Patricia is safe tonight, that I am not going to unexpectedly pull a knife out and use it on her just for the sake of doing so, that I am not going to get any pleasure watching her bleed from slits I've made by cutting her throat or slicing her neck open or gouging her eyes out. She's lucky, even though there is no real reasoning behind the luck. (pg 76 - again with the pop music and insane violence)

All it comes down to is: I feel like shit but look great. (pg 106)

"Patrick," she says slowly. "If you're so uptight about work, why don't you just quit? You don't have to work."
"Because," I say, staring directly at her, "I... want... to... fit... in." (pg 237)

The smell of blood works its way into my dreams, which are, for the most part, terrible: on an ocean liner that catches fire, witnessing volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, the violent deaths of most of the inside traders at Salomon, James Robinson doing something bad to me, finding myself back at boarding school, then at Harvard, the dead walk among the living. (pg 371 - only reference to traumatic past... who is James Robinson?)

...there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist... Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do? (pg 376-377 - classic Harvard, am I right??)