Bret Easton Ellis Speaks To The Paris Review About 'American Psycho', Death Threats And The New York Literary Scene
Bret Easton Ellis has never been known as the most shy and retiring literary figure. Author most famously of "American Psycho", in the latest issue of The Paris Review, available on Monday, he lets rip into the New York publishing scene, reveals the "two best novels of my generation", talks about the death threats he received following the publication of "American Psycho," and discusses the emptiness at the heart of his most famous work.
Here's some of the highlights.
On New York and Jonathan Franzen:
“Finally, the publishing scene got too claustrophobic, too cliquey, too irritating for me. I was tired of hearing people complain about the size of other people’s advances, complain about who got an excerpt of their forthcoming novel in The New Yorker and who didn’t, about who got their story published in The Paris Review and who didn’t. I was tired of all the gossip and of watching people suck up to editors and agents and writers because they felt they had to stay connected.
The general snootiness about Franzen’s success that you could smell wafting off the literary scene grossed me out and became indicative of something ominous to me. "The Corrections" and "Freedom" are the two best novels that came out of my generation, so man-up and deal with it, guys.
It came to a point where I just couldn’t put up with the pettiness of it all anymore. Being confronted by it was making me miserable. I didn’t want to go to another PEN dinner. I didn’t want to hang with these people. I didn’t want to have cocktails in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art and sit at a table and listen to writers give speeches. I didn’t want to go to another book party at Pravda, or at a loft in Tribeca. I found myself thinking more often than not when I’d receive an invitation, I’d rather cut my head off with a knife.”
On "American Psycho":
“"American Psycho" came out of a place of severe alienation and loneliness and self-loathing. I was pursuing a life—you could call it the Gentleman’s Quarterly way of living—that I knew was bullshit, and yet I couldn’t seem to help it. American Psycho is a book about becoming the man you feel you have to be, the man who is cool, slick, handsome, effortlessly moving through the world, modeling suits in Esquire, having babes on his arm. It’s about lifestyle being sold as life, a lifestyle that never seemed to include passion, creativity, curiosity, romance, pain. Everything meaningful wiped away in favor of surfaces, in favor of looking good, having money, having six-pack abs, dating the hottest porn star, going to the hottest clubs.
On the surface, like Patrick Bateman, I had everything a young man could possibly want to be “happy” and yet I wasn’t. I think "Fight Club" is about this, too—this idea that men are sold a bill of goods about what they have to be in order to feel good about themselves, or feel important. No one can really live up to these ideals, so there’s an immense amount of dissatisfaction roiling through the collective male psyche. Patrick Bateman is the extreme embodiment of that dissatisfaction. Nothing fulfills him. The more he acquires, the emptier he feels. On a certain level, I was that man, too.”
On death threats:
“In January I got a call from my agent. She said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You’ve been getting death threats, and we need to show them to you. Legal has talked it over. If we don’t show them to you, and you’re not aware of them, then if something happens to you, we are liable, and your parents can sue us. So we’re going to send you a packet of these death threats, and you can look through them, and verify that you have seen them.” That was a very interesting afternoon.
Some of these threats included drawings of my body, and people describing how they were going to torture me, and what they were going to do to my corpse. They were going to do the same things to me that they thought “I” had done to the women in this book that they hadn’t even read yet.
But when the book came out a few months later, the controversy stopped. The complaints, the protests, the screaming about what a monster Bret Easton Ellis supposedly was, it all stopped. People finally read the book, and they found out that it wasn’t four hundred pages of torture and mutilation and advocating the death of women. It’s just some boring novel.”