Strange, not gory

Conventional wisdom holds that truth is stranger than fiction, but Bret Easton Ellis has never had a lot of respect for convention. His fictional representations of truth consistently focus on its more bizarre elements, resulting in a grotesque carnival of the natural world’s darker moments. In a culture of incessant psychobabble, reality TV and Internet authenticity, it’s only natural to want to know more about the kind of freak that writes this stuff. Lending his name and pseudo-biography to the narrator of Lunar Park, Ellis responds to this car-crash curiosity by creating a complex drama that is as much about the writer as it is about the reader, writing, regret and rebirth. Fiction doesn’t get more real than that.

According to the narrator, it doesn’t really matter whether the real Ellis is a “potty-mouthed butt pirate” or whether he really indulged in “the devil’s dandruff” or whether Ellis’ first novel actually hinged on an editor’s comment about “an audience for a novel about coke-snorting, cock-sucking zombies.”

The fictional Bret Easton Ellis assures us that being “a mystery, an enigma, that was what mattered—that’s what sold books.” Postured humility and 20-20 hindsight filter into the narrator’s recollection of the 1985 publication of Ellis’ Less Than Zero as the “beginning of a time when it was almost as if the novel itself didn’t matter anymore—publishing a shiny booklike object” was sufficient cause to party. He solicits sympathy by confessing that in rehab he was diagnosed with “acquired situational narcissism” and transfers all liability for American Psycho to a novel that “forced itself to be written” through nocturnal visitations of the spirit of a madman. He summarizes the 1991 best seller as an extremely violent, pornographic novel about “vast apathy during the height of the Reagan eighties,” rejected by its original publisher “on grounds of taste, forfeiting a mid-six-figure advance.”

In the creation of a fictional self, the real Bret Easton Ellis takes full advantage of readers’ fevered interest in a behind-the-scenes view of the life of a once-famous prodigy, obliterating the fine line between his story and history. With a narrator who convincingly claims, “I could never be as honest about myself in a piece of nonfiction as I could in any of my novels,” the real Ellis effortlessly side-steps accountability for biographical detail.

The narrator insists he “was a victim of the burgeoning culture of the politically correct.” In reality, Simon & Schuster refused distribution, and the National Organization of Women (NOW) aggressively boycotted American Psycho after Random House picked it up. The narrator parenthetically acknowledges that in a world “filled with black ironies, Ms. Steinem eventually married David Bale, the father of the actor who played Patrick Bateman in the movie.” In reality, Gloria Steinem, 66-year-old feminist icon and founder of NOW, married for the first time shortly after the general release of the film version of American Psycho. Her husband, Christian Bale’s father, died three years later. In reality, if you’re part of a fan base looking for vicariously gory thrills, you’ll be disappointed that Lunar Park offers less than seven pages of anything even close to the graphic violence of Ellis’ previous work.

The real horror in Lunar Park sneaks in through the implication that in post-feminist America a man might need the veil of substance abuse or Ghostbuster bravado to explore a deeper self.