‘Less Than Zero’ by Bret Easton Ellis. 4/5 STARS.
Step into the shoes of a lovable loser, a young guy who clearly has talent and intelligence handed to him (economically, if not genetically) but no proper channel for it. He’s still got time, you think, he’s in college.
I enjoyed seeing Los Angeles through the eyes of the protagonist. Because he is neither for nor against his world, he is more like a material witness to a cultural crime in progress. That crime being the assault upon all human goodness and innocence. Wow. And he keeps a sense of humor about it, until about two thirds of the way through, after which it became less of an ambulance chase intrigue.
You begin to feel uneasy, as though it’s no longer culture that needs a shot of loving kind compassion in the arm, but you; you might be the one needing resuscitation. Because it certainly feels closer to nonfiction than fiction. And probably is a fusion of the two, put together by a master chef (Mr. Easton-Ellis) at an open kitchen with an array of knives at his disposal. Oh, and meat grinders. And the ambient sound of fucking, dying and other counterculture fare. Squirt some lemon in the heart for extra-sensory pain.
I love the cover of the old paperback copy I finally bought at a used bookstore here in Sacramento, with the proceeds of the single copy of my own novel I sold there…and some additional cash of course (I’m not a known entity, yet). It is a cream-color image of LA skyline fading out in the smog. And the photo on the back of the author has him in prepschool attire as a young man, probably not unlike his protagonist and perhaps the same? This is an unauthorized biographical query. And I saw the photo was taken by a one Miss Quintana Roo, who, for those who don’t now, was the only daughter of the great essayist Joan Didion (also from Sacramento). Sadly, the past tense refers not to mom but to daughter, for Quintana Roo passed away young after a brief illness.
I mention all this to support my intuition that this novel is a bit nonfiction. Because we live in a world that is quite used to seeing stars rise and fall, and quite accustomed to scenes (in LA or otherwise) like Phil Hoffman at the peak of his career and head of a young and bright family, blue with a needle full of drug cocktail still stuck in his arm, 23 years afer he supposedly ‘got it’. Meaning recovery. This novel is the perfect example of how, recovered or not, we all are having to keep a close eye on ourselves in the context of a culture that could parade us out one day on theatrical accolades, and leave us stewing in our own celebrity nihilism the next, so forlorn and in such godless disbelief as to chance the end of everything so fine and hopeful.
Rest in Peace to all. I have compassion for all of us. This book furthers my compassion for Los Angelans and US Americans and global citizens, to think that even in the refuge of the States (not a gutted-by-war kind of GPS, compared to Kiev or even parts of London) a city could engender such hatred and violence. Kids taking pictures of eachother in front of corpses, or gangbanging, or self-gangbanging. Brutal anarchy and madness in old Hollywood’s new money bling.
I really hated the falling apart of it all toward the end, because the sense of humor dried up. I prefer to laugh like I was throughout the first hundred pages. Which is just another reason why I charge this book as a likely nonfiction masquerading as fiction. Because if it was fiction, it could have ended with a laugh, not a cry.
And if it was nonfiction, it probably would never hit the shelves in Mr. Easton Ellis’ lifetime, so he wouldn’t be the chillaxed man of intrigue that he is today. He might look more like William Burroughs in Drugstore Cowboy. Read this book. It’s great. Then read mine, because it’s a parallel kinda process, taking place in Chicago. But mine is really FICTION!
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