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Book Review: The Craigslist Murders by Brenda Cullerton

August 9, 2011 12 comments

Woman holding bloody item behind back.Summary:
Charlotte works as an interior designer to the wealthiest of the wealthy in NYC.  She thus has a window into their world and attends their parties, but is not actually a part of it.  The wealthy women annoy the crap out of Charlotte as they remind her entirely too much of her cruel, social ladder climbing mother, yet she simultaneously needs the income to stay afloat in notoriously expensive NYC.  One day when attempting to purchase a designer item cheap off of craigslist, she finds the solution to her pent-up rage.  Periodic murders of the wealthy elite women via responding to craigslist ads.

Review:
I view Charlotte as the female and decidedly less insane version of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.  Both characters are a part of the wealthy, elite world that they simultaneously hate.  Both obviously have antisocial personality disorder.  Both murder people to deal with it.  The similarities end there, though, as Charlotte is decidedly less far gone than Patrick so there are no chapters of non-sensical rants.  Also this book is far less violent.  Charlotte murders by whapping women in the back of the head with a fire poker.  Her murders are about killing the women, not torturing them.

Honestly, this book reads as delicious fantasy to anyone who has ever lived in a city and bumped elbows with the craziness that is the world of the 1% (the wealthy elite).  Charlotte’s rage is our rage, and she deals with it in a way no civilized person would, but as Charlotte herself says when discussing the news of a murdered wealthy woman:

She’d been killed by her own personal assistant, news that Charlotte believed had come as a terrible shock to everyone in the city except the thousands of other personal assistants who dreamed, daily, of doing the same thing. (location 1101)

Yes, exactly.  This book rages against the privileged in a way most of us can only dream of doing.  And it works.

Charlotte is more than a murderer, though.  She’s a well-rounded character.  The reasons behind her murders and state of mental health are gradually revealed in a skilled manner throughout the book.  First we know Charlotte as a frustrated worker.  Then we see her murder.  Then we gradually start to see the real Charlotte beneath the facade.  A woman who was a little girl whose spirit was broken by her mother.  No one in her world, not even her therapist, offers her any real help, so Charlotte deals with her issues the only way she knows how.  It’s an excellent commentary on why quality mental health care and loving communities are so necessary.

The one issue I had with the book itself is the ending.  I won’t spoil it, but basically I’m not sure exactly why Cullerton went there with this narrative.  I can’t help but wonder if she’s planning a sequel.  I sort of wish she would write one to address some lingering questions I have, but perhaps that’s her point.  Perhaps she chose that ending to make the reader continue to think about the situation even after finishing the book.  If so, then it definitely worked.

I also find the cover infuriating, because the weapon the woman is holding looks nothing like the weapon used in the book, and that sort of thing that is mentioned repeatedly in the story shouldn’t be messed up on the cover.  Obviously that’s not the author’s fault, though.

Overall this contemporary fiction with a twist is a delightful read.  If American Psycho intrigued you but the graphic violence and sex turned you off, definitely give this book a read.  It features similar themes with less violence and more well-rounded characters.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Amazon

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Book Review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

January 10, 2011 6 comments

Man's face.Summary:
Patrick Bateman is a 1980s yuppie working a Wall Street job with a dark secret.  He doesn’t connect to other people except in the moments he’s torturing and killing them.  But is he really a psychopathic murderer or is it all in his head?

Review:
I have a high tolerance for and even a tendency toward graphic violence and sex in novels, so I feel the need to warn my readers that this book was shockingly graphic even to me, and I was unphased by Battle Royale.  So take that warning as you will.  If you can’t handle graphic violence and sex, this book is definitely not for you.  That said, this book pushes those with a high tolerance for such things in their reading out of their comfort zone, which is always an interesting experience.

The book is told from the first person perspective of Patrick Bateman.  This is essential for us to see and feel what it is to struggle as him.  This, of course, is painfully uncomfortable because we are put in the head of a madman while he violently dismembers and eventually kills multiple people, mainly women.  Some people don’t ever want to be in that person’s head.  Personally, I feel it is essential to understand what drives some people to be psychopaths and Breat Easton Ellis has a frightening ability to get inside that head.  It is chilling to feel that Patrick gets the same sense of release from killing someone as I get from having a glass of wine at the end of the day.  Simultaneously, I don’t doubt this at all, because that is what it is to be a psychopath.

Bret Easton Ellis also does an excellent job of depicting Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Essentially, people suffering from this disorder are incapable of connecting emotionally or empathizing at all with other human beings.  Patrick recognizes this disconnect when he is talking with various people in his life.  He suffers significantly from this inability to find any connection with anything but violence.

My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone.  In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others.  I want no one to escape. (Location 8020-8023)

Beyond this, Patrick is completely confused about his world, and he knows it.  He is unsure what is reality and what is not.  This was one of the first aspects of mental illness to be recognized and seeing it all from the perspective of someone who is suffering from it is eloquent.

My mask of sanity was a victim of impending slippage. (Location 5975-5978)

Of course, beyond the uncomfortable identification with and depiction of someone suffering from one of the most difficult to understand mental illnesses is the depiction of the yuppie environment of the 1980s.  What a vain, vapid existence these people lead.  Extensive passages feature Patrick delineating every single designer name everyone in the room is wearing.  One of the main issues in the week for all of the yuppie characters is getting into what is considered to be the best restaurant that week.  Only the “best” alcohol is ordered.  Only the “best” food is served, and it is served in such tiny portions that the yuppies are still hungry, yet this is considered to be better than being satiated.  Frankly, I found these passages annoying to read, but they are necessary to the book.  They show what a shallow, vapid world Patrick is in; one that he feels he cannot escape.  These people are so selfish and lacking in empathy in that there is no way in hell they will ever notice anything is wrong with Patrick.  It’s a scathing commentary on the yuppie culture.

The only negative from a writing aspect I can say about the book is the random chapters in which Patrick educates us on various musical groups.  I honestly have no idea what the point of those are, and I skimmed over them.  I definitely think Bret Easton Ellis should have cut them.

Overall, this is definitely a difficult book to read.  It’s not comfortable or easy to alternate between identifying with a possible killer and being disgusted by his actions.  Feeling sympathy for a killer is not something our society encourages, yet this book makes you feel it.  Additionally, the passages depicting the yuppie world are vapid and annoying if for no other reason than because yuppies are vapid and annoying.  Those difficulties though are what makes the book work.  It takes the reader out of their comfort zone and forces them to confront things that they may not want to confront.  Killers are not simply inhuman.  They may do inhuman acts, but there are still elements of them that we may identify with.  That is the truly scary part of American Psycho.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who thinks they can handle the graphic sex and violence.  It will push your boundaries and force you to sympathize with those society depicts to us as the least sympathetic.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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