Imperial Fanbase

I just read this passive agressive article on the work of Bret Easton Ellis by an American writer called Teddy Wayne, after a fellow Londoner retweeted the link. I really struggled to grasp what Wayne's issue with Ellis is.

So... Teddy...

Evidently you have read all of Bret Easton Ellis' books, and one suspects very much enjoyed them, so are you deliberately missing the point of Bret Easton Ellis? I can see how some writers feel intimidated by Bret Easton Ellis, his work is so seemingly simple and yet totally inimitable. BEE has found a literary throne room for himself, and so many male writers have envied it since, yet nobody seems to be able to beat him at his own game (although Nick McDonnell came close). Journalists always strive to shove BEE into a list, you do it yourself, "Donna Tartt, Johnathan Lethem", uncomfortable with accepting the fact that actually he's a very successful stand-alone author whose contemporary influences aren't really from within literature at all.

You attack Ellis for labouring over his author shot for the cover flap of Imperial Bedrooms, criticising it for being a melange of "fiction and reality". Yes. OBVIOUSLY. Do you remember Stephen King's shot with the tarantula crawling over his knuckles? Or Danielle Steele standing in a ball gown the size of the Taj Mahal ? Have you seen Lord Byron dressed as an exotic orientalist? People quite often attack authors who are placed on a pedestal like popstars, forgetting that popular writers have been around just as long as egotistical music artists or famous actors. BEE is interested in aesthetics and visual identity. He even metions Cindy Sherman in Imperial Bedrooms.

You suggest Imperial Bedrooms is little more than a re-treading of old ground. I found that Imperial Bedrooms built upon some of BEE's pet themes whilst also explored new territories. He captured the psyche of the older man brilliantly, the ageing process and the fearful realisation that a highly succesful career still isn't enough to rival those who were born with everything.

I don't think BEE's books are about a "system" either, that he is "exposing". To say that he is exposing a certain social circuit, an underground drug-fuelled movement that is the secret driving force behind Hollywood, is to oversimplify his books. Nobody has control in Imperial Bedrooms, all of the characters, even Rip, are riddled with their own insecurities. If Less Than Zero was about finding a way out then Imperial Bedrooms is about the moment that the ivy finally wraps itself right around the tree and hope is dead.

Homosexuality is another major theme of BEE's work. I don't know how gay you are Teddy, but I assumed from your piece that you're straight? BEE is amused, disgusted, baffled, horrified and delighted by how much Hollywood indulges and resides within the closet, but unlike some gay writers who mindlessly wave the rainbow flag, he likes to challenge gay culture and poke a finger in its belly. There is an incredibly complex binary between remorse and envy in BEE's work in relation to same-sex relations. I think heterosexual men miss some of the more subtle mirroring and documentation of underground gay culture present in BEE's work, and more generally speaking, the potential perils and pitfalls of the homosexual psyche that he nails so accurately and with what has become his own brand of American understatement.

You write how BEE's characters are unrealistic and too distanced from "the average middle-class overweight American who rarely leaves his home state". This is surely quite a ridiculous argument to try and shape, that writers must represent and be just like their readers?

BEE writes about beautiful, young, rich, hollow Americans not because it's all he knows, but because it's what he's interested in. In places his writing is the adult application and superimposing of wild sexual imagery, violence and wealth fantasies onto a backdrop of idealised imaginings from his own adolescence, young male beauty and the American dream. It's like observing a beautiful glass blowing process, and then smashing the results with a hammer. And, clearly, it's a formula that really works, a formula that people want more of, and a formula with room to expand.

When you write "he rapes and beats them" in reference to the end of Imperial Bedrooms, I feel you hide in your own fictitious interpretation of the book and shy away from the truth behind Imperial Bedrooms here. He doesn't just rape them, he forcefully fists them. He describes the beauty of the boy, he emphasises his youth, he adds overly heterosexual details, mentions a contract with Abercrombie & Fitch, and then talks a bit about the boy's lofty ambitions and dreams of becoming an actor. And then he shoves the protagonist's fist right into that boy's ass until he screams, with a suggestion of permanent injury. Then the other escort, the girl, sits in the garden and welcomes Satan into her soul.

Old territory being covered? Or readers' heads being buried?

Anyhow. Teddy. I'm sure you adore Bret Easton Ellis, and I'm convinced your piece was more about lightly promoting your own work and raising your own profile, and there's nothing wrong with that.

1 comment:

  1. I read Less Than Zero and Rules of Attraction quite a few years ago and was lukewarm about both; they left me uninterested in anything else by this author. I didn't find the characters or stories very interesting; i thought the writing style was ok, not great, and didn't find the books to be especially insightful or thought-provoking.