- Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho/Glamorama/Lunar Park
Not including Julian Murphet's efficient book on American Psycho, this collection is the first full-length study of Ellis's writings (a second by Sonia Baelo-Allué has [End Page 256] just come out). It includes a general introduction, nine articles grouped into three sections, each headed by an introduction, a works cited, some notes on contributors and an index. Mandel has carried out her editorial work with care and rigor, bringing together nine scholars from North America, Europe, and Israel, including three (James Annesley, Baelo-Allué, and Alex E. Blazer) who published important pieces on Ellis early on. While I have a few reservations about specific points in the book, all the articles are well-written and make for serious academic research. For the most part, the contributors are familiar with previous critical work on Ellis and take care to establish their theoretical framework. However, they sometimes do not leave enough room for close analysis of the texts, which occasionally leads to under-substantiated statements (127). Having worked extensively on American Psycho, my comments on those chapters will, no doubt, sound a bit more severe. These articles are by no means inferior to the rest; rather, they have the merit of challenging my own interpretations.
The main introduction presents the (in)famous author, justifies the corpus, surveys the history of Ellis's books and their relation to their times, and ends on the question of their aesthetic value. Regrettably, Continuum's policy of focusing on books published since 1990 (vii) excludes Ellis's first novel Less Than Zero, which I would have liked to see in place of Glamorama, for little research has been devoted to it even though it played an important part in his career and enjoys some recognition. That said, Mandel's argument that her book studies "the shock waves" of American Psycho's impact makes sense (1), and she intelligently highlights the similarities and differences between Ellis's books, taking up Elizabeth Young's point that "each novel comments on its predecessor, undercutting and devaluing what the previous novel had posited, however tentatively, as salvation" (10).
The introductions to the three sections elegantly present the novels' main characteristics (plot, genre) and their place in cultural history (influences, historical context, reception), before showing how the chapters fit in the body of critical work and underlining the points on which the contributors converge and diverge (67). The works cited contains the references to the whole book; usability for students and scholars could have been increased by separating the secondary sources and including books and articles not cited by the authors. The index (names, titles and concepts) is thorough, although concepts like naturalism and hyperrealism could have been added, as well as a clearcut distinction between narrative and narration.
The first chapter, "Violence, Ethics, and the Rhetoric of Decorum in American Psycho" by Michael P. Clark, argues that the excesses of Ellis's texts "position... readers as subjects responsive to, and so responsible for, others through the rhetoric of address" (24). The emphasis on language and the failure of verisimilitude put the reader, like the characters Patrick Bateman seeks recognition from (29-31), in the position of an ethical subject. I agree with Clark's point and his demonstration is effective, but his reliance on Dryden's essay on theater seems problematic (34). Not only does it deal with another medium, but it seems to suggest that the verbal is enough to break the immersive potential of the visual; Clark's bringing in Brecht's ideas about foregrounding the artificiality of theater in his conclusion somewhat tempers this (35), but the problem of the medium remains. Reader response theory might have helped to examine the connection between the "implied" and the real reader (33).
"American Psycho, Hamlet, and Existential Psychosis" by Alex E. Blazer adopts a psychoanalytical approach to the character-narrator by arguing that "Patrick's father, the one with the problematic eyes, failed to sever his son from the imaginary link with...