I never ask if someone’s read American Psycho, I never even bring it up casually; this book is an exercise in will, asking the reader if they are willing to turn the page. Simply put, American Psycho is so overwhelmingly violent that half of the people who start the thing think you’d have to be a sociopath to finish it. I don’t think that American Psycho is necessarily a good book, but I do think it’s important.
The gist is there’s this wall street guy who is a murderous psychopath hellbent on dicing up hookers and asshole colleagues. The idea itself isn’t the most compelling on face value, but the intently analytical way the book comes across reinforces the reality that you are in the dark and someone is out there waiting to dismember you for fun. Even with that overwhelming sense of dull dread, I wouldn’t call it horror. Sure, most of the book describes scenes of horror, but there is something so matter-of-fact about the way they’re written. It’s a funny book too; taking advantage of the profound disturbance that makes up the majority of the work, American Psycho has a great deal of disarming witticism and poignant social commentary to help remind you that you're not reading a slasher piece.
It’s so hard to not go into the same old humdrum explanation for why a book is worth reading. Cultural significance, innovative finesse, sheer readability, these are the characteristics I look for in a book. Although Bret Easton Ellis doesn't necessarily value readability, he does write in a way that exhausts the reader without losing their focus. The gore is there to repel you and it does its job.
Bret Easton Ellis reminds me of Andy Warhol. Both of them live and lived by the idea that the arts must be tested, forced to bend at the will of the creator or forger. When I read American Psycho, I imagine slews of angry feminists steaming over their laptops as they send scathing reviews out into the world as if Mr. Ellis even gives a shit. The idea that you endorse the things you report is ridiculous, unfortunately hoards of people still believe that to create such a monster the author must have to be some kind of monster. The jury is still out on whether or not Mr. Ellis has any actual skeletons in his closet, but it doesn't take a psychopath to imagine one.
People still crucify American Psycho as if it might become the next manifesto for some coalition of aggressive misogyny. The book has started a conversation that has just recently come to the forefront of the mainstream media; are words violence in their own right? I believe this book, in its attempt to offer contrast to the absurdity of the greed-is-good culture, has inadvertently blurred the line between word and weapon. For that simple irony, I admire it.
American Psycho is on my list for books to read before you die because it’s forceful, dark, and charged with challenging imagery. Finish it or not, this book is bound to make an impact. If nothing more, it’s a farewell to a part of you that couldn’t imagine the horror lurking in the shadowy recesses of high-rise apartments.