(Warning: American Psycho is one of the most banned books of all time, for good reason. In Germany the book was deemed “harmful to minors” and had numerous sales restrictions placed on it between 1995-2000. In Australia, the book must be sold shrink wrapped and can not be sold to those under the age of 18. These bans are not without good reason, and can be used to give one an idea of the explicit content of this book.)
Everybody has heard of American Psycho. The movie adaptation is considered a classic slasher/horror serial-killer flick with a dramatically dark sense of satirical humor. For most, hearing the title will will conjure the image of Patrick Bateman dancing to Huey Lewis and the News in a plastic raincoat when conjuring images of the movie. The character of Patrick Bateman is so widely known that he is a pop culture icon but is the book that spawned him truly worth reading?
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is a criticism of American culture, gluttony, and wealth. Patrick Bateman, our protagonist, works on Wall Street, bringing us through the horrifically shallow existence that comes with his picturesque Wall Street life. The book is a brutal satire of American materialism, brutal not only in satire, but content as well.
Now if you are looking for something to read late into the night, American Psycho is and isn’t your book. If you are looking for an exciting page turner that you can’t resist reading the next page than American Psycho isn’t your book. In fact, there are huge stretches of the book that are fascinatingly boring. This is through no fault of the writer. Actually, the sheer tedium that comes with reading this book at times is what makes it so fantastic. Ellis includes chapter long critiques of the band Genesis, and even pages and pages describing Patrick Bateman’s morning routine to give the book an emptiness. Bret Easton Ellis doesn’t just outright tell you that Bateman is an empty husk of a person, or simply show it in a few pointed scenes. Throughout the whole book you can feel the lack of humanity. American Psycho isn’t narrated by Patrick Bateman, but rather is a stream of consciousness narrative, such that you can read Bateman’s every thought. By choosing this ‘narration style’ Ellis does a fantastic job of conveying this vacancy and it becomes a fantastic and important aspect of the book. The lack of depth in any of the characters, emotions, or writing is so necessary, because Bateman purposefully has no depth. Another peculiarity that stems from the narration is that as the reader you are unsure what is and isn’t real. Bateman is the epitome of an unreliable narrator, yet you can’t question him along the ride, because you feel that you are in for a ride with no particular destination.
While its unorthodox narration may draw some readers in, it’s not a story for the faint of heart. You have no doubt heard to some degree about what can only be described as excessive violence in this book. If you have seen the movie, and decided: “That wasn’t too bad! I could totally read that book, how bad could it be?” be advised that the violence in the book goes beyond anything you have ever imagined in your life, and far beyond any scope the movie reaches. If you are squeamish, prone to nightmares, or are easily frightened or disgusted, than this may not be the book for you. All I can say is that if you are any of these things, but think that since you saw the movie you will be fine, reconsider before delving into this book. If the long talks from Patrick Bateman about his interior decoration might seem boring and almost sleep inducing at first, you will quickly come to miss them.
Now that I have given you a sense of how brutal American Psycho can be, if you haven’t been scared away, then let me say that I could not recommend it more. The book is masterfully written and is the one of the few I know that makes me want to vomit from disgust and laugh out loud within the same page. It’s primarily a satire, sprinkled in with hilariously ridiculous scenes such as Bateman argueing with friends about what brands of water are the best to drink, and that’s what makes the book work. The excessive violence is not there just to scare the reader, but as part of the joke. While it may seem unlikely, the book can truly be hilarious at times. The end of the book somehow makes it all feel worth it, from the disgusting mutilations to the in depth descriptions of every character’s suit, the ending wraps it up perfectly. The book needs every violent scene, just as much as it needs Patrick Bateman’s in depth analysis of everybody’s suits.
American Psycho is not a novel for the faint of heart, and reading it will change some part of you, like all great works should. It is banned for what to some would seem like very legitimate reasons, but those reasons do not detract from it’s greatness. Books like American Psycho are banned due to their perceived “inappropriate content”, yet even in this extreme scenario, who is to say that content is inappropriate? What people it’s inappropriate for, and where it should subsequently be banned? You might even read it and find it totally deserving to be banned given it’s blatant sexism, racism, homophobia, excessive violence, and explicit sex all stemming from its protagonist. Yet, American Psycho is still art, an idea to be expressed, and that idea should not be stifled. In fact, the reasons people often say American Psycho should be banned are the exact reasons it should exist, and should be read. It’s very “inappropriate” nature allows us to push the boundaries of reading, and protects us from the inherent dangers of banning books. I highly recommend that anyone who has the stomach for it pick up a copy of American Psycho, if only to be reviled by what’s inside or amazed by what Bret Easton Ellis communicates with his “inappropriate content”.