Lunar Park

by Bret Easton Ellis

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Bret Easton Ellis opens a literary gateway into a world of exquisite debauchery. In classic pop-culture candy like 1985's Less Than Zero and 1987's The Rules of Attraction, the most egregious crimes a gorgeous young thing could commit were monogamy and sobriety. The world was a jacked-up fuck fest for silver-spoon latchkey kids. Then came 1991's American Psycho, the story of a yuppie serial killer as obsessed with the embossing of his business cards, the meaning of top 40 music, and the latest designer trend as he was with viciously binding and torturing his victims. Four years later, Ellis's novel Glamorama took the killer instinct even further, involving supermodels and international terrorist rings in an emptier thriller that focused, of course, on VIPs loaded with money, drugs, and weaponry.

After years of receiving harsh criticism for his violent writing (Psycho inspired a large-scale boycott, although it then became a bestseller), and then admitting that Psycho was a searing portrait of his class-obsessed father, Ellis offers the pretense of intimacy in his latest novel, Lunar Park. Lunar Park's star is named Brett Easton Ellis, an author who penned Less Than Zero and American Psycho, a celebrity who hangs with Madonna, David Duchovny, and Jay McInerney (Ellis is a perennial namedropper). Only now he's married to a famous actress with two kids and a dog, a house in the suburbs, and, after a stint with sobriety, a ravenous, reawakened appetite for straight vodka, eight-balls of coke, and extramarital fuckups.

With those basics laid straight, the book tears at multiple wounds simultaneously—and both Ellis's psyche and his physical safety end up gravely maimed. With his trademark caustic humor, Ellis describes a chemically addled nervous breakdown; the more he escapes into intoxicants, the more frightening reality becomes. The story moves rapidly from the fear of his wife discovering how often he's nose-deep in a bag of dummy dust to a chilling mix of American Beauty and Amityville, where dinner with the bourgie neighbors is just as horrifying as finding an errant gravestone in the yard.

While it's obvious from the Steven King flights into fantasy that Lunar Park is not nearly the autobiography its main character suggests, the real Ellis grapples with some poignant demons here. Maturing into his 40s, the death of his father, and the ways in which the words of his youth spiraled into uncontrollable mayhem resound like reasonable issues for anyone who's followed Ellis's contentious work. After years of creating characters without consciences, Ellis portrays himself as increasingly guilt-riddled, a victim of his own violent imagination. But that's not the only ghost in the attic. There is also, clearly, the fear of being too tied down—frightened to look at yourself in the mirror because neither the reckless twentysomething nor the fortysomething suburbanite reflects well on you these days.

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Ultimately, Ellis leads the reader through a fractured hall of mirrors that refracts the relationship of a writer to his characters, his readers, and his past. But beneath the surface there are many unanswered questions—partially because Ellis the character is an increasing unreliable narrator, stewing in so many stimulants, and partially because Ellis ultimately chooses to keep the reader at arm's length once again. Even at a distance, though, his books remain some of pop culture's quickest reads by one of its most wryly conflicted icons. If Ellis was truly comfortable in the celebrity skin of a status-hungry, moral-free Page Sixer, his vicious tales of societal and emotional jailbreak wouldn't be nearly as gratifying.

Bret Easton Ellis reads at Elliott Bay Book Company (101 S Main St, 624-6600) on Tues Sept 6 at 7:30 pm. It's free.

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