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Something’s Rotten in the State of
By Andrew Haley

Book Review:
Lunar Park

Bret Easton Ellis
320 pages
$25.00 hardcover

In Bret Easton Ellis’s new novel Lunar Park, a world-famous author, as infamous for his drug-fueled public decomposition as for the decapitations and orgies depicted in his books, tries to settle down in suburbia with his beautiful wife and her adolescent kids. The
fictional author is named Bret Easton Ellis, and like the Bret Easton Ellis of this world, his celebrity and liberty are the byproducts of a literary career that gave the world Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho and Glamorama.

As in this world, these novels are raging, parodic diatribes against the materialism and superficiality of contemporary America, particularly the contemporary America of A-list celebrities and power mongers.

Ellis’s novels pulse with a demonic energy as their narratives string together cokefueled homoerotic orgies, cannibalism, pornographic underage sex, rape, drug addiction and wanton dismemberment into a body of work as indignant and self-righteous as it is glaringly, shiningly Pop. While these novels, especially the 1991 Psycho, incited an uproar from horrified reviewers in both this world and the world of Lunar Park, they are vindicated because they stem from the same spring as Flowers of Evil and the work of Goya. They are furious indictments of the Reagan ’80s and the Prozac-addled, Sex in the City ’90s. Patrick Bateman, the title character of American Psycho, is not Bret Easton Elli He is, we learn in Lunar Park, his father.

Lunar Park takes Ellis’s metropolis out of his writing. Gone are the trendy clubs, the soundproofed penthouse apartments, the steaming nocturnal streets swarming with prostitutes and other invisibles peddling their victimhood at cut rates. Instead, we have Ellsinore Lane, a quiet street of identical McMansions in an unnamed state near Manhattan. The name is not coincidence. As in Hamlet, this Ellsinore is a dead zone trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead, the fictional and the real, the mad and the sane. As in Hamlet, and made famous by Joyce, this Ellsinore becomes the setting for the maddening, soul-wringing transformation of son to father, father to son and author to character. What happens, Lunar Park asks, when you wake up one morning in suburbia and realize you are turning into your father, and your father is Patrick Bateman?

Ellis fans will find the same graphic, mind-bending meta-fiction in Lunar Park that they found in American Psycho and Glamorama. As in those books, the narrator of Lunar Park is on the brink, constantly ingesting cocaine and Klonopin to get back to normal. Madness and fury express themselves through Ellis’s trademark horror: a raven-shaped doll that eviscerates the neighborhood animals, a giraffe that gets hit by lightening, a house that begins organically sloughing off its surfaces to reveal another house beneath it, complete with green shag carpet growing out of the floor.

The venomous parody of the American rich comes through with its portraits of druggedout school kids raised in an over-protective dystopia of neurosis and self-loathing.

But there is something about the suburban setting that keeps knocking Lunar Park back into camp. When Ellis put a butcher knife in the hands of a Wall Street success story, and turned the glamorous world of the rich and famous into a slaughterhouse, he was carving new ground. But in putting the monstrous and demonic in suburbia, Ellis is re-treading The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist and half a dozen other films made two decades ago. Where horror was an artistic vehicle in Ellis’s last two novels, here it feels like Hollywood trope.

Lunar Park is a good book. But reading it, I got the sense that Ellis was resting on his laurels. It lacks the maniacal, sardonic energy of his previous two novels, but its ending blows Glamorama’s out of the water. Its last two pages, about a son burying his father and an author moving on, may be Ellis’s finest writing yet.

andrew [at]


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