Bret Easton Ellis: Unanswered Prayers


By Dale Peck

I have to admit that when Out magazine asked me to review Bret Easton Ellis's Imperial Bedrooms, the sequel to his debut, Less Than Zero on the latter book's twenty-fifth anniversary, I was a little reluctant to accept the commission. I suppose I could try to dress up my motives, but the God's honest truth is that I was miffed Out had tapped one of my former students, Nick Burd, for the 2009 Out 100, a list on which my own name has never appeared, despite the fact that I've published ten books to Nick's one, and been a contributing editor to this magazine since 2006. And then there's the fact that, well, I've never really understood Ellis's writing. Don't take that the wrong way. It's not that I don't like Ellis's books. I just don't get them. I mean, if I can make sense of the 1079-page goulash of Infinite Jest, then surely I can figure out American Psycho and Glamorama, which clock in around the same length, right? But the closest I've ever come to finding a raison d''tre for one of Ellis's novels is when I sat through the first forty-five minutes of Less Than Zero in the dorm room of this cute freshman whose pants I was trying to get into back in college. (In what can only be described as an Ellisesque turn of events, the cute freshman ended up working for Out right about the time I became a contributing editor here. It took me a while to figure that out, however, because he'd changed his name in the decade since I'd last seen him -- to that of a character in Less Than Zero. I mean, what's up with that, Keith?)

'But even that's not the real issue,' I told Aaron Hicklin, Out's boyishly handsome editor in chief, over two pieces of $38 unagi don at Nobu. 'The truth is, I've met Bret a couple of times. We have a kind of complicated, you know, relationship.'

'Ooh!' Aaron said, reaching for a piece of my sea urchin -- for some reason he hadn't ordered anything himself, and, even more inexplicably, he'd brought a glass jar full of change to the restaurant. 'I want the dish!'

'Um, it's my dish?' I pulled the tastefully colorless porcelain plate out of range of his chopsticks. 'You've got your jar of nickels and dimes?'

'There are quarters in here too.' Aaron said, a little snippily, and wrinkled his nose in a way that made me want to reach for a steam iron. 'Anyway, who cares about another novel? People want to know the real Bret Easton Ellis.' He eyed my unagi and I wrapped an arm around it protectively. 'I'll give you ten grand if you file by June first.'

'I want twenty,' I said, popping the last urchin in my mouth, 'and I'll file when I'm damn good and ready.'

'Deal,' Aaron said, but by that time I'd seen a 'friend,' if you know what I mean, and I'd already left the table. I took the tastelessly colorful plate with me, just because, and as I entered the bathroom I heard the sound of Aaron dumping his jar of change on the table.

Tags: Art & Books