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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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Movie Review: When In Rome (2010)

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Man and woman standing close to each other with woman biting her finger.Summary:
Beth loves her career as a curator at the Guggenheim, and she’s told her friends that when she meets a man she loves more than her career that’s when she’ll know he’s the one.  She, therefore, is shocked when her sister meets an Italian man on a plane and gets engaged to him two weeks later.  Off to Rome for the wedding, and Beth hits it off with a guy.  But when she sees him kissing an Italian woman, she gets drunk on champagne and takes four coins from the love fountain in front of the wedding.  Uh-oh!  Taking a coin from the fountain makes the thrower fall instantly in love with you, and when Beth gets back to NYC, she winds up with four very determined suitors.

Review:
Yes, I actually do watch a chick flick periodically.  😉  This one is quite stereotypical, complete with Beth declaring she’s starving and proceeding to grab a salad to eat.  Oy.  There’s also the usual slap-stick humor, such as the main suitor falling down a hole in the streets of NYC.  It also takes quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to believe that Beth randomly grabbed four coins, all of which happened to have belonged to men.  Uh-huh.  Somehow I feel like the statistics of that actually happening are unlikely.

However, the story itself is a bit unique, what with the inclusion of magic.  Although it’s obvious who Beth will end up with, the way they wind up together was not entirely predictable, so that was nice.  The cinematography is visually very appealing.  For instance, the scene of Beth drunk in the fountain is just gorgeous.

The acting ranges from cringe-inducing to excellent.  Danny DeVito’s presence as one of the suitors really saves the film.  That man is just always so believable in whatever film he’s in.  Kristen Bell, who plays the lead, also does a good job, although the supporting characters are a bit iffy.

Overall, it’s a fun way to pass an hour and a half if you have a soft spot for romcoms and enjoy Italian scenery.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz (Series, #1)

April 26, 2010 6 comments

Female neck wearing a pearl necklace with bite marks against NYC skyline.Summary:
The students at Duchesne Academy in New York City appear to be your typical bunch of wealthy, elite teenagers.  Naturally gorgeous twins Mimi and Jack rule the school.  Bliss became part of Mimi’s entourage when her oil wealthy Texas family moved to NYC.  Schuyler is part of the crowd of misfits who wear goth clothes instead of the more typical Louis Vuitton.  They all gradually discover, however, that the secret to their families’ wealth isn’t just that they came over on the Mayflower.  They are Blue Bloods–vampires who retire from their human shells every 100 years or so then come back with the same blood.  Their teenage years are vulnerable ones, and someone or something out there is managing to kill some of the young Blue Bloods.

Review:
The vampire lore behind this story is not my style.  It is so much not my style that just writing the above summary made me cringe.  None of the official summaries of the book reveal much about the vampire lore, so let me tell you just in case it’s not your style either.  Blue Bloods is heavily steeped in Christianity.  The vampires are fallen angels who are attempting to atone for their rebellion.  They face hundreds of years of punishment trapped in human bodies that they must eventually retire then return in new ones.  The vampires accomplish this reincarnation by taking some of the blood from the dead vampire and implanting it into a vampire woman’s uterus.  It all rings as a bit odd when you have a teenage character who’s never done anything more wrong than sneak into a club be told that she must atone for this rebellion against god that she doesn’t even remember doing hundreds of years ago.  It really takes the bite out of vampires and makes them kind of pathetic.

Where the book is strongest is oddly where the vampire thing is on the back burner.  Schuyler and Bliss get to model for a jean company, and that scene was actually quite enjoyable to read.  If this had been your more typical murder mystery at an elite high school, I think it would have been a much better book.

Some reviewers had a problem with the presence of teenage drinking, drugging, and sex.  I actually thought the sex was handled quite well, with teens talking about it a lot but nobody actually managing to do it.  That read as very real.  The alcohol is kind of a non-factor, since vampires can’t be affected by alcohol.  My only confusion with this is if that’s the case, then why are they risking breaking the law to drink?  I suppose it seems minor compared to convincing a human to become your familiar so you can feed off them.  The drugs are entirely presented in a negative light the few times they are briefly mentioned.

What shocked me, and I can’t believe how infrequently this is mentioned, is that there is incest and the vampires accept it.  Gah!  There are times when incest is present in a book, and it is handled so that all sides of the issue may be seen–all of the accompanying emotions are delicately handled.  Here, the vampires just say that it’s the way it should be and are protective of the siblings.  Not much else is said of it, beyond a few teen vampires being grossed out, but it is made clear that their reactions are considered inappropriate by the vampires.

That said, it’s not badly written on a sentence level.  It reads naturally, which is probably the only reason I struggled through the cringe-inducing lore.  It is essentially Gossip Girl crossed with Vampire Diaries with some incest and Christianity tossed in.  If that’s your thing, you will enjoy it.  All others should probably pass though.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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