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Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis



Meet Clay. He's bummed. No, "bummed" is too passionate a descriptive for Clay. Clay is emotionally neutral nonstop in this flatlining naught-plot narrative; he's pathologically emotively neutral to his empty core; he'd score a big fat zero on an Emo-Meter, if such said device existed.

First printing, 1985
Living in Beverly Hills his whole life has gotten Clay feeling blah, blase. Never having had to work for anything at all at anytime in one's life might do that to a fella. Clay's eighteen, but unlike that classic Alice Cooper song, he's eighteen and doesn't like it, even no matter now much cocaine he consumes or Valium he pops (to bring himself down from the coke), he's simply not content being so young and good looking, with a Mediterranean mansion for a pad (albeit his parent's posh crib), and driving a Mercedes Benz to all the Sunset Strip hot spots nightly, because, ultimately, doin' the same 'ol-same 'ol's a real drag man. It's a hard life being Clay, being wealthy, educated, possessing every perk money can buy, and yet . . . yet . . . he's so bored. He's so bored it's depressing. Ennui, Dude; ennui. Who wouldn't be inevitably bored by -- as Ellis' much loved Eagles once sang -- "everything, all the time".

Malaise. Such malaise. Malaise of the sort made famous by that fictional Russian slacker, Oblomov, way back when in the 19th century; only Clay's emotional/spiritual malaise is much more pharmaceutically induced, I think, than Ivan Goncharov's classic character. One can't help feeling sorry for him, for Clay (ahem, 'scuse me), especially when he sees his psychiatrist and lies to him about his bizarre sexual fantasies, because nothing, nothing really matters, just like in that classic "Bohemian Rhapsody" song by Queen. Nothing really matters except for MTV with the sound turned off and dope and Elvis Costello posters and the brand name of every pricey piece of hipster attire imaginable -- as seen in GQ and Vogue -- and of every high end boutique and trendy dive in town. Dupar's, Privilege, Jerry Magnin, La Scala, etc., et.al.

What's Clay's family life like? His mother drinks a lot of red wine, his father, at the moment estranged from his wife, listens to Bob Seger in his convertible (sad sad) and Clay's 15 year old sister, a Galaga fanatic, can get her "own cocaine," she protests to her older brother, since Clay had just accused her of stealing a gram out of his room. Clay's 13 year old sister, confronted by the reality that Galaga is too expensive for mother to purchase and that she already, after all, owns Atari, whines mournfully that "Atari's cheap!". Sweet girls. Lovely family.

Clay's girlfriend, Blair, we learn, has been cheating on Clay while he was away at college with his best friend, Julian, an aspiring male prostitute working to pay off his heroin debt to Rip, he & Clay's drug dealer. Clay doesn't really mind though, Blair and Julian hooking-up and gettin' free-kay, since he soon sleeps with Blair anyway fresh upon his return from college, and sleeps, as well, with many other beautiful young offspring (both male and female) of Beverly Hill's finest. Clay, Blair, and Julian, in fact, sleep with literally dozens of people during a relatively short (Christmas Break) duration of time, sleeping with so many people that sometimes Clay can't recollect if he's slept with so-and-so or another. Could Clay's memory loss be associated with the early onset of Alzheimer's, or perhaps a negative consequence of his excessive marijuana consumption? I'd posit the latter.

Clay, also, I'm sure the potential reader would be delighted knowing, engages in some rather explicit, uh, mutual masturbation with this girl he's met somewhere (who knows where? an uber-cool club presumably, read the book to find out where, I mean, no, don't read the book) and since slathered lotion was involved during the mutually and doubly self satisfying process -- a pleasurable process in which Clay had to slow his own stroking-motion down some so that the two undoubtedly ohhing-and-ahhing self-lovers could climax (beautiful) simultaneously -- we learn the experience wasn't without its drawbacks, as Clay laments, "it stings when I come".

Later on, Rip, the sporty drug dealer, throws a rip-roaring coke-fest extravaganza at his plush high rise Century Blvd. condo, and shows everybody, proudly, a "snuff" movie. Grainy images, but clear enough for all in attendance to witness a "big black dude" with "this huge member" sodomize a boy and girl, then the big black dude procures an ice-pick out of nowhere (yeah! entertaining stuff, er, snuff!, go Ellis go!) and surgically inserts it deep down their ear canals. Instant (except for the victimized children's autonomous body-spasms) entertaining death. Woohoo! Immediate gorey gratification. That'll shock the shit out of these nihilistic cokefiends, right? Uh, no. What was the name of that Jane's Addiction album at the close of the 80s -- "Nothing's Shocking"? Exactly. Rip might as well have given his party zombies more Valium rather than a snuff flick based on their minimalist emotings of moral outrage.

Ellis (pictured right) with his party pals, Jay McInerney & Tama Janowitz in the late 1980s,
shortly after Less Than Zero's publication
Yawn.
Shrug.
Don sunglasses.
Light a cigarette.
Exhale.
Snort another line.
Another.
Pause.
Talk about that new XTC album.
Watch the exhaled smoke disappear.

"Disappear here," -- a recurring motif in Less Than Zero (gee, wonder what that could possibly signify? Bash us over the head with the not-so-subtle symbolism, Bret!).

Other obvious and less than artful motifs: Asphalt, freeways, palm trees, warm Santa Ana winds (courtesy of Joan Didion), "dead end streets" as bluntly crafted metaphors for dead end lives. Dude. You were only a teenager when you wrote this? Wow, I never would have guessed! Like, totally.

Less Than Zero, iconic mid '80s teenage melodrugdrama helped pave the way for such future iconic pop-works of Americana-gone-off-the-deep-end, like Beverly Hills 90210 and MTVs The Real World. Thanks, Bret, for paving the inglorious way for such glitz and ditz!

Less Than Zero, I'm afraid, is Less Than Literature, but who cares? And there's politically incorrect rants about Jews and "Orientals" in the novel too! But I'd be lying, indeed I would be, if I said I'm not still -- STILL -- mysteriously, perversely, shamefully, sweet-sickishly, attracted to Less Than Zero like I'm a fly jonesing for some good human decomp, and Less Than Zero's the rotting husk of a maggot-laden corpse oozing amoral stench and nihilistic stink and plethora of icky sticky creepy-crawlies spreading depravity and disease upon all like me foolishly buzzing 'round the fetid carcass. So swat me somebody swat me!

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