Cruelty Wears Designer Clothes and Chain-Smokes in LESS THAN ZERO

In Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel, what people say doesn’t mean much on the surface, but their masks slip before long. Less Than Zero follows Clay as he returns home to sunny Los Angeles for winter break from college. Bret wrote this book when he was twenty-one! Yes, I’m jealous.

Get ready to meet some of the douchiest people you’ve ever met as Clay cycles through mansion parties, coke binges, expensive dinners, and bouts of crippling meaninglessness and anxiety in eighties L.A. You learn to pay close attention to the slightest of details–a sigh, a glance, the flick of a cigarette–because good luck getting any of these characters to say what they truly feel.

I tried reading this book back in high school and couldn’t get past page 30. I kept rolling my eyes at the vapid, rich-kid lives of the characters. Now I couldn’t put it down. From the beginning, you see the hints of darkness under the perfect, curated front they wear.

It’s a quick read, 200 pages or so. Fast-paced writing and a revealing structure. Most of the story follows Clay’s life during winter break, but spliced in every now and then is a journal entry that shows you the roots of his pain and nostalgia. This book isn’t for everyone, just like American Psycho, Bret’s most popular book, but now it’s one of my favorites.

Buy the book here.
Listen to Bret’s podcast here.

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