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The Imperial Bedrooms of Bret Easton Ellis

There's an excruciatingly disturbing scene (as opposed to just the raw standard disturbing scene) in Less Than Zero, involving pre-teens, a boy and a girl, who are raped and then murdered in a "snuff" movie bought for $400 by Rip, infamous drug dealer, for the viewing pleasure, or, rather, the viewing dispassion and ennui of his client, Clay, and other coked-up collegiates on winter break in Los Angeles, partying in Rip's posh Century City condo, that, twenty five years later, in Imperial Bedrooms, has essentially come full circle - the "snuff" movie motif - in the "life" of Clay, narcissistic narrator of both novels, though now a borderline-sociopath and full blown boozer, in the latter.

Clay, despite being such a remorseless, unforgivable creep in Imperial Bedrooms, is by far the least depraved of characters in the diminuitive (only 169 pages) novel. His old friends from Less Than Zero: Blair, ex-girlfriend, married to his old bisexual best buddy, Trent, are worse. So's Julian, once a high-priced teenage male whore pimped by Rip to pay off his ginormous drug debt to Rip, is now a pimp himself, (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em) pimping out his latest girlfriend, Rain, who'll do literally anything (or anyone) especially if they're a Hollywood mogul, or even just a lowly screenwriter like Clay, as long as they're holding out the promise of an acting gig in one of the movies they've written, if the young thespian-wannabe hottie will spend some quality time with him in his Doheny high rise apartment. A movie of Clay's called The Listeners is the current carrot being held before the boldly ambitious (and kinky, remember Rick James' 1981 hit, "Super Freak'?, the ditty's unmentioned in Imperial Bedrooms, but practically every other '80s hit is - that's her! - the "kind of girl you don't take home to mother") actress.

The irony, of course, so important to Ellis - irony, IRONY (and the more bitter the IRONY, the better!) - is that while offering her a role in his (Clay's) movie, The Listeners, nobody in the novel is ever listening to anybody! Get it? Especially Clay. Rip, Blair, Julian, even Rain, all try and warn Clay...but will he listen? No. Because he, like they, are always too busy listening to the dictates of their mostly fiendish, sometimes repulsive, always self indulgent and over-the-top, desires, for any real communication - or connecting - to occur.

Isolation? Check.
Alienation? Check
Haute couture? Check.
Grotesque murders? Check.
"Pauses," paranoia, and palm trees? Check.
Psychiatrists? Check.
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Duh.

Bret has written this novel before - and better. No surprise there. It was called American Psycho; it was called Lunar Park. In fact, he keeps writing the same damn novel over and over and over again... And his enabling fans - I'm an enabler, I admit it! - keep buying them, over and over and over again, the same damn novel, with a different title and dust jacket... Because his novels are like comfort food to me (and to millions of others) or maybe like crack, I mean. Even the aesthetic layout of Imperial Bedrooms: Uber-wide margins, vignettes rarely more than a page long, and each first letter of each vignette ten times the size of the rest of the text, mirrors the layout of Less Than Zero (or, really, long before LTL, in the short novels of Joan Didion or Jerzy Kosinski).

There's not much substance to this novel, I guess is what I'm trying to say, even despite so many controlled substances.

But if I'm going to have a serious problem, Bret Easton Ellis (and Imperial Bedrooms), his latest, if not gravest, novel, is nevertheless, a pretty good serious problem to have.


Rebecca Glenn said…
Comfort food or crack? A, dare I say, juxtaposition I can embrace.

So, the question is, should I bother to go back and read Less Than Zero, which I--gasp--have never read? Or should I just let it lie?
EnriqueFreeque said…
If it were up to me, I'd say you have to go back to LTL. But, IB works as a stand alone. Though there would be some early, inside jokes you might miss not having read LTL, like how Clay hated the movie "they made about us," how it didn't stay true to the book, etc.

More importantly, I think you'd find all the pop culture ref's. enjoyable. And being the Elvis Costello fan you are, you are aware that the book is named for a Costello song, and that Elvis is all over the place in the book. As are so many other bands too numerous to itemize but I'll still try to off the top of my head:

Besides Costello, Led Zeppelin, X, Eagles, The Human League, XTC, Tom Petty, the Go-Gos, the Psychedelic Furs, Fleetwood Mac, Oingo Boingo, a band called "Killer Pussy" and their KROQ (back when they were the avant garde kings of L.A. FM radio) pimped, novelty hit, "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage," Bob Seger (blah), and that's all I can recall right now.

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