American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Tonight I am wearing black leggings by Victoria’s Secret and a dark gray long-sleeve leisurewear t-shirt by American Eagle Outfitters with a black and white rose. Above the rose in dark gray typewriter-esque text is the statement “Romance (Always a Good Thing).” My slippers are robin’s egg blue with a gray Aztec pattern. They are also by Victoria’s Secret and happened to be on sale for half off. Would Patrick Bateman approve?

I think not.

The synopsis on the back of my copy of American Psycho is only the following:

“Patrick Bateman is handsome, well educated, intelligent. He works by day on Wall Street, earning a fortune to complement the one he was born with. His nights he spends in ways we cannot begin to fathom. He is twenty-six years old and living his own American Dream.”

I read this synopsis multiple times while reading the book, just making sure that there wasn’t any key plot point I could’ve missed that would’ve given me a hint into what exactly I was getting myself into, but, no dice.

And thus, ends the non-spoilery section of this post. I thought I’d put in a warning here because this book is too crazy to dance around any scenes. (With that being said, I’ll also post a trigger warning. American Psycho contains a numerous amount of disturbing scenes that will be mentioned as I continue, and that might be distressing to some.)

It took me a chapter or so to really get into American Psycho as I kept confusing all of the male characters for each other. Yet, after reading the book and doing some additional research, I realized that 1) That was kind of the whole point of Patrick’s psychosis and 2) As long as I had Patrick down, it really didn’t matter.

As I said, I thought the book began a little dryly as we don’t really see Patrick commit a full-blown, bloody, brutal murder until page 131. Sure, Patrick flippantly states, “Oh, the other day I tortured and killed this girl,” but I didn’t feel the full effect of his words until he tortures the bum on the street. And the bum’s dog. When he describes in detail stabbing the bum’s eyes and watching them pop, I knew Bateman wasn’t messing around anymore. (Or was he?)

I constantly went back and forth between: real or not real? feel bad for Patrick or hate Patrick? skip over the gore or plug on? is there a point to this book or is it just senseless shock-value?

Well, being that I was having those questions before I’d even reached the middle of the book, it’s safe to say American Psycho is more than senseless shock-value. Now, Ellis definitely didn’t hold back in any of the murder scenes. We got the clearest visions possible. There was not any glossing over by “fading the scene out” or with Patrick “going into a black-out rage.” We didn’t just get to know that he stabbed a victim, but that he stabbed a victim through the bottom of her nose and drove it up her face until it poked out of her forehead. Not to mention the vile rape and cannibalistic scenes that occurred where I actually had to put down the book for a while.

However, in the same token, I can say with full certainty that American Psycho was probably one of the best novels I have ever read. The writing was excellent, and is the reason I would rate it 5/5 even though I wouldn’t say I necessarily “liked” the book. It’s one of those books where I’m glad I read it, and I know I learned a lot, but I wouldn’t have read it independently.

I like to have reasons in the books I write and read, and I think a large part of having a villain or antihero–for me as a writer and reader–is to make him/her almost redeemable and almost justified in his or her actions. Bateman almost reached that point for me when Jean confessed her love for him and, though he says he can’t return it, he can accept it. But then he goes on to torture more animals and women and engage in cannibalistic behavior, and I was done getting my hopes up.

I’m also not a fan of the ambiguous ending. This is the only book where I would have been so happy to get the “it was all a dream” ending. I would’ve been glad that all of those horrific events only occurred in Bateman’s mind–perhaps from the confines of a mental hospital. (Speaking of which, when he visits his mother?? I totally thought it was the other way around: that she was visiting him in the hospital after all.) Now, of course there is a 50% chance that this was all going on inside Patrick’s head. Though, of course I read other theories where the message of the book isn’t supposed to be “some people are psychopathic killers” but that, “some people are so full of themselves that there could be a psychopathic killer in their midst and they don’t even notice.”

Now, I like thrillers and mysteries. I absolutely loved the Jasper Dent Series, which is YA, but still gets away with VERY detailed murders and mutilated, tortured, and raped victims. (Honestly, I even hate to type the words “murder” and “rape”, so please bear with me for just a bit longer.) So, on the whole, American Psycho was just too much negative without the positive for me to completely love it. It’s still one of the most excellently written novels I’ve ever read, but it’s not one I’ll be raving about, nor do I feel that absolutely everyone on Earth won’t be complete until they read this book. I think the scene where Jean professes her love is the one scene where Bateman is the most human, even though he vehemently denies it. This didn’t seem so much like a novel as it did a statement: almost like a work of art that might be called “a statement piece”. A work of art that’s achingly beautiful and utterly horrific at the same time.

American Psycho was one of the toughest books to get through content-wise for me. Many times I considered not finishing it because the scenes were so graphic, but even though I probably won’t read it again, I am glad I saw it through to the end. It taught me how to make a statement with my writing using layers. It taught me that I want to satisfy readers more than I want to mystify them.

But, I do believe this is a book that will stay with me for a long time–and a book that I can use as a lens through which to study my own work. I’m not a fan of writing or highlighting in books, but if you ever peek at my copy, you’re going to see numerous pink underlines.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Chad pritt says:

    Great overview on the book and I loved your thoughts. Its crazy how just about everybody has the same visceral reaction to this book. It’s just so damned… different. And good. I think you really nailed it, though, when you said as long as you have Patrick Bateman down, it didn’t really matter if you could follow everybody else. When I realized that, the book got so much better!


  2. Katie,
    I completely get the feeling of needing to pit down the book every now and then. Not so much for the murders for me, but because of too much description going through one ear and out the other. You’re right about Patrick being non-redeemable in the reader’s eyes. I couldn’t help but dislike him as well. But then I also think that the reason Ellis makes him so is because we’re not supposed to like him. I agree that it is so well-written, but like you I would not have picked it up on my own.


  3. grcope says:

    Katie, great post. Although I felt Bateman was most “human” when he was so obviously disintegrating mentally. The whole “Jean” section felt off to me — I couldn’t tell what amazed me more — that she thought she was in love with her boss (trite), or that he didn’t kill her right off the bat. Instead, he punishes her for loving him, I guess, by making her have an abortion.
    That mental hospital scene with his mother threw me also — for the briefest moment I thought SHE was visiting him, too. Weird.


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