I disagree with Steve Almond's assessment of Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis published in the Boston Globe (Aug. 14, 2005), a novel Almond gleefully labelled as the worst novel he'd ever read. I don't counter Almond's misinformed diatribe by saying Lunar Park is the best novel ever written, though I'd conclude it's a better book than the sole book of Steve Almond's I've read -- My Life in Heavy Metal -- a generally good book of short stories set in the late 1980s when hair metal briefly ruled radio airwaves -- but a book, nevertheless, I did not like as much as I liked Lunar Park.
Lunar Park is, granted, a work of self-indulgent, probably overly self-involved metafiction, but not embarrassing self-aggrandizement as has been purported by Almond and his anti-Bret Easton Ellis lit-crit ilk out to tar and feather yet again contemporary literature's Lucifer (every time Ellis publishes a book his devout haters come out of the woodwork like roaches protesting the latest innovation made in Raid), a modern day Marquis de Sade of their own making. As if Ellis could even be remotely confused with de Sade. Now, compared with Jerzy Kosinki? I'd be comfortable with that comparison. Never mind that Marquis de Sade, besides being a superior intellect and talent (sorry, Bret), was an amoralist; while Bret always has been and probably always will be an earnest moralist disguising his moralism behind the depravity and dispassion of his characters and narrators who consistently wear masks of apathy (but Ellis actually cares), and Lunar Park, believe it or not, is as much if not more so a morality tale as his much-maligned anti-heroic classic, American Psycho. So what if Ellis' protagonists are always sadistic, always twisted, always addicted, and certainly always narcissistic and misogynistic, and sometimes serial killers too? We do live in a sick and twisted world don't we, especially here in the States, and Ellis skewers our sordid universe like few writers can, even if it means lambasting himself in the process; or, the confabulated mythology of himself, I should specify, that he and the media have made out of him.
The first thirty-plus pages of Lunar Park are a condensed and self-absorbed history of the roller coaster career of a fictional and yet true life character named Bret Easton Ellis, chronicling his debauched glory days clubbing with the Brat Pack on the Sunset Strip and in Manhattan high rises hot on the heels of his Less Than Zero rocket launch to literary stardom (1985-87); continuing through the infamy of his publisher backing out at the last minute on American Psycho, refusing to publish it, having caved to the pressure from mainly a vocal and politically powerful group of feminists who indicted the book with what amounted to a summary verdict of hate speech (1991); through the even more excessive excess of the Glamorama years (1998-99), when Ellis went a bit bonkers, even by his standards, a la Elvis-circa-1975, and got bloated both personally and professionally to the point of becoming nearly unrecognizable, a caricature of himself, until the safe landing and seeming equanimity he recovered -- finding peace, finally, with his life (declared he was gay) and career -- as exemplified by the uproarious self-deprecation contained in the first thirty-plus pages of Lunar Park (2005).
The bleak, nihilistic undercurrents of Ellis' earlier work do not completely dominate Lunar Park, replaced instead with surprising sensitivity, humor, and even horror that's more homage to terror masters of the trade than a genuine attempt to write something scary, though scare the hell out of me it did. It's a strange and unexpected, sometimes nostalgic mix that includes even ... a plot -- another novelty for Ellis' novels! -- one that relies heavily on the reader's foreknowledge of American Psycho. But even without having read American Psycho, Lunar Park still works.
In the novel's stirring climax, our protagonist, Bret Easton Ellis, undergoes and begins an emotional rebirth of such breadth and depth we almost forget that, yes indeed, Lunar Park is a novel written by that supposed creepy jerk, Bret Easton Ellis! I was stunned by that powerful and elegantly crafted ending, as Ellis makes an unforgettable deal with the memory of his deceased father, a man who'd all but perhaps justifiably disowned him. The ending's so good it probably outshines the balance of the book, I'll admit, but I'll take it and not complain. For Ellis so invoked such unexpected tenderness in that ending -- going against the grain, against type -- that it touched me to the point of tears. To this day, seven years removed from first reading it, I'm still moved, and more than ready to regale anybody about it -- the book, Lunar Park, unequivocally not the worst novel ever written -- willing to listen.