AMERICAN PSYCHO Is a Cultural Achievement

American Psycho tells the story of Patrick Bateman, a rich 26-year-old investment banker in 1989 New York City. You jump from the glitzy vibe of 1980s nightclub culture to the finer points of men’s fashion to mind-bending horror reminiscent of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

American Psycho is caustic, it’s so New York, it’s so 1980s. But it’s become more relevant since its 1991 publication, putting aside Patrick’s obsession with Donald Trump. There’s something magical about the prose. It’ll challenge you. Bret Easton Ellis, the author, has the skill to make you bust out laughing in one paragraph and make you sick in the next. Patrick Bateman is so entertaining, you find yourself perversely rooting for him sometimes. How that happens you’re not sure, but it’s in the writing, the superb control with which Ellis tells his story—the details he bombards you with, the details he leaves out, the delicious gut-checks that come out of nowhere.

You will find some parts reprehensible, especially in our current PC culture, but to appreciate the novel you can’t spend too much time judging the author. Not all art should “stand for something” in the obvious, ham-fisted way we’ve come to expect. You must witness and accept the horror to feel the weight of it. There’s a message, sure, but Ellis puts you through hell to get it. Ultimately the art is more important to him than the message so the end result is a masterful novel. To me, the obscene, the unexplained, the forbidden is ultimately enjoyable. The novel has stuck with me for years. There’s something strange, stomach-churning, and downright corrupt about it—and I fucking love it.

American Psycho delivers a strong story and a voice that carries impressively throughout the novel. It’s an extended stay in Patrick Bateman’s world. You become familiar with him, you laugh with him, but then you fix your hand over your mouth in horror, wishing he hadn’t just done that. This isn’t rubbernecking past a terrible crash. This book puts you in the mind of evil and disturbs you with how entertaining it is. It’s a privilege to be able to read this buzzing, serrated cultural achievement.

Buy the book here.

Listen to Bret’s podcast here (highly recommended).

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