'Imperial Bedrooms,' Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis has written a satire. Either that, or he’s just sick.

Bret Easton Ellis is a satirist. I know this because that’s how he refers to himself. It’s good to keep repeating that to yourself as you read his books. It’s easy to mistake them for snuff-film novelizations.

His satirical characters apparently represent some kind of darkness, with Ellis bringing them to light because we light-dwellers need to be aware of their existence and casual nihilism and sociopathy. It’s not a wink, exactly. There’s no winking going on in American Psycho, which is why the book was so bluntly appealing. It’s something subtler and almost invisible. Which is why it’s good to keep reminding yourself, it’s a satire.

As Clay — the protagonist from Ellis’ 1985 novel Less than Zero and here again, 25 years later — lures a woman into an affair that gradually becomes outright rape: It’s a satire. As he jets off with two young prostitutes to soothe his broken heart (the girl he rapes doesn’t like him anymore) then loads them with drugs, locks them in a room and makes them torture each other: It’s a satire. It’s a satire.

At 170-ish pages and 14-ish point type, Imperial Bedrooms is called a novel but feels like a novella, both in length and lack of narrative roundness. The book is narrated in Ellis’ trademark style — frank, emotionless depictions of depravity and brutality — taken to an extreme that I’m not sure he’s managed before. (I’ve read several of his books, but not all.) None of the characters change, because perhaps Hollywood will never change. Clay is a screenwriter, and he’s the way he is because … well, who knows? He doesn’t even know.

There’s nothing to say here, because there’s very little being said. At the outset, though, Ellis allows Clay to mock the novel that was written about him 25 years ago (presumably Ellis’ own), and the subsequent (actual) movie, which moralized Ellis’ deliberately amoral book.

Imperial Bedrooms concludes with the line: “I never liked anyone and I’m afraid of people.” It’s a nice way to characterize Clay, but it also sums up Bret Easton Ellis pretty well too.

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About The Author

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.