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American Psycho


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American Psycho

This article is about the 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis. For the film adaptation, see American Psycho (film). For other uses, see American Psycho (disambiguation).

American Psycho  

First English hardcover edition cover of the book.


Bret Easton Ellis


Transgressional fiction, Novel


Vintage Books, New York

Publication date






OCLC Number


Dewey Decimal

813/.54 20

LC Classification

PS3555.L5937 A8 1991

American Psycho is a psychological thriller and satirical novel by Bret Easton Ellis, published in 1991. The story is told in the first person by the protagonist, serial killer and Manhattan businessman Patrick Bateman. The graphic violence and sexual content generated much controversy before and since publication. Nearly 20 years on, Ellis's work has recently been described as "one of the key novels of the last century."[1] A film adaptation starring Christian Bale was released in 2000 to generally favorable reviews.[2] The Observer notes that while "some countries [deem it] so potentially disturbing that it can only be sold shrink-wrapped", "critics rave about it" and "academics revel in its transgressive and postmodern qualities".[3] In 2008, it was confirmed that producers Craig Roessler and Jesse Singer were developing a musical adaptation of the novel to appear on Broadway.

[edit] Development

Ellis researched murders at the New York Public Library. His first draft of American Psycho left all the grisly scenes until last, to be added in later. To one reviewer, Ellis comments


[Bateman] was crazy the same way [I was]. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. That is where the tension of "American Psycho" came from. It wasn't that I was going to make up this serial killer on Wall Street. High concept. Fantastic. It came from a much more personal place, and that's something that I've only been admitting in the last year or so. I was so on the defensive because of the reaction to that book that I wasn't able to talk about it on that level.[4]



This section requires expansion.

[edit] Synopsis

Set in Manhattan and beginning on April Fools' Day 1989, American Psycho spans roughly three years in the life of wealthy young investment banker Patrick Bateman. Bateman, 26 years old when the story begins, narrates his everyday activities, from his daily life among the upper-class elite of New York to his forays into murder by nightfall.

Bateman comes from a privileged background, having graduated from St. Paul's School, Harvard (class of 1984), and then Harvard Business School (class of 1986). He works as a vice president at a Wall Street investment company and lives in an expensive Manhattan apartment on the Upper West Side, where he embodies the 1980s yuppie culture. Through present tense stream-of-consciousness narrative, he describes his conversations with colleagues in bars and cafes, his office, and nightclubs.

The first third of the book contains no violence (except for subtle references apparent only in retrospect), and is simply an account of what seems to be a series of Friday nights, as Bateman documents travelling with his colleagues to a variety of nightclubs, where they snort cocaine, critique fellow club-goers' clothing, trade fashion advice, and question one another on proper etiquette.

Beginning with the second third of the book, Bateman begins to describe his day-to-day activities, which range from such mundanities as renting videotapes and making dinner reservations to committing brutal murders. Bateman's stream of consciousness is occasionally broken up by chapters in which Bateman directly addresses the reader in order to critique the work of 1980s musicians, specifically Genesis, Huey Lewis and the News and Whitney Houston.

In addition to describing his daily life, Bateman also speaks about his "love" life. He is engaged to a fellow yuppie named Evelyn, though he possesses no deep feelings for anyone; additionally, he frequently solicits sex with attractive women ("hardbodies"), manipulates his secretary's feelings for him, and tries to avoid the attention of Luis Carruthers, a closeted homosexual colleague who confesses his love for him. Bateman also documents his relationship with his estranged family, including his senile mother, whom he visits in a nursing home, and his younger brother, a hedonistic college dropout (Sean Bateman, one of the protagonists from Ellis's earlier novel The Rules of Attraction; Patrick Bateman himself also briefly appears in said novel).

As the book progresses, Bateman's control over his violent urges deteriorates. The description of his murders become increasingly sadistic and complex, progressing from stabbings to drawn out sequences of torture, rape, mutilation, cannibalism, and necrophilia. His mask of sanity appears to slip as he introduces stories about serial killers into casual conversations, and confesses his murderous activities to his co-workers. People react as if Bateman is joking with them, appear not to hear him, or otherwise completely misunderstand him ("murders and executions" is mistaken for "mergers and acquisitions", for example). As the book nears its conclusion, Bateman describes incidents such as seeing a Cheerio interviewed on a talk show, being stalked by an anthropomorphic park bench, and being ordered by an ATM to feed it a stray cat. Bateman's mental state appears increasingly questionable, and the events in the novel draw into question whether he has actually committed any of the murders he has described.

Towards the end of the novel, he visits an apartment where he has been stockpiling mutilated bodies; to his amazement, Bateman enters a perfectly clean, refurbished apartment with no trace of decomposing bodies, but with many strong-smelling flowers, as though meant to hide a bad odour. He runs into a real estate agent showing the apartment to prospective buyers. The estate agent asks him if he saw the advertisement in the New York Times. When Bateman pretends that he did, the estate agent says that there was none, and that he should leave and not cause any trouble.

Bateman confronts Harold Carnes, his lawyer, on whose answering machine he has previously confessed all his crimes; Carnes, who mistakes Bateman for someone else, is amused at what he considers to be a good joke. Carnes reproaches Bateman for laying the list of crimes at his feet, and further says that Bateman is far too much of a coward to have committed such acts. Challenged by Bateman on the disappearance of Paul Owen – a colleague whom Bateman hacked to death out of professional jealousy – Carnes unexpectedly claims that he had dinner, in London, with Paul Owen a few days previously. The ambiguity is heightened by the fact that mistaken identity is a recurring theme throughout the book. Characters are consistently introduced as other people, or argue over the identities of people they can see in restaurants or at parties. Whether any of the crimes depicted in the novel actually happened, or were simply the fantasies of a delusional psychotic, is deliberately left open.

The opening lines of the book have Timothy Price staring at graffiti on a Chemical Bank building, reading Abandon all hope ye who enter here, an allusion to the gates of hell portrayed in Dante's Divine Comedy; the book ends with a similar scene, as Bateman sits in a bar, staring at a sign that reads "This is not an exit".

[edit] Characters

[edit] Major characters

  • Patrick Bateman - The central character and narrator.
  • Evelyn Williams - Bateman's fiancée.
  • Timothy Price - Bateman's best friend and colleague. Later appears as a teenager in Ellis' novel The Informers.
  • Paul Owen - Bateman's colleague who is later murdered by Bateman.
  • Jean - Bateman's secretary, who is in love with him.
  • Luis Carruthers - Gay co-worker who is in love with Bateman, something which disgusts him.
  • Courtney Lawrence - Luis' girlfriend who is having an affair with Bateman.
  • Craig McDermott - Bateman's colleague, part of a social foursome alongside Bateman, Timothy Price and David Van Patten
  • David Van Patten - Bateman's colleague, also part of Bateman's main social group.

[edit] Minor characters

  • Christie — A prostitute, employed and abused sexually on multiple occasions by Bateman.
  • Marcus Halberstam — Bateman's colleague; Paul Owen repeatedly mistakes Bateman for Marcus.
  • Donald Kimball — Private detective hired to investigate Paul Owen's disappearance.
  • Alison Poole — Sexually assaulted by Bateman; created by Ellis' friend Jay McInerney in his novel Story of My Life[5] and based on McInerney's former girlfriend Rielle Hunter; reappears as a main character in Ellis's later novel Glamorama, where she is involved with the lead character, Victor Ward.
  • Sean Bateman — younger brother of Patrick Bateman and also the lead character of The Rules of Attraction.
  • Paul Denton — friend of Paul Owen, who also appears in The Rules of Attraction where he is possibly romantically involved with Patrick's brother Sean.
  • Christopher Armstrong — Bateman's colleague at Pierce & Pierce.
  • Bethany - An old girlfriend of Patrick's whom, after a date, he murders in a particularly heinous manner.
  • Alex Tang - The video store receptionist.

[edit] Bateman's personality

Main article: Patrick Bateman

Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in the film adaptation.

On first appearance, Bateman exemplifies the image of the successful Manhattan executive; he is well-educated, wealthy, popular with women, abreast of cultural trends, belongs to a prominent family, has a high-paying job and lives in an upscale, chic apartment complex. Bateman passes for a refined, intelligent, thoughtful young man, but is in reality a violent sociopath who tortures and murders people, rapes several women, cannibalizes his victims, and has sex with corpses. Bateman uses personal limousines to search for suitable victims in the streets.

Bateman is extremely style-conscious, and appears an expert in fashion and high-end consumer products. In his narrative, he obsessively describes his and other people's possessions in exhaustive detail, focusing particularly on attire, and even noting articles like pens, and pocket squares. He has a general tendency to pay more heed to the designer, place of purchase, and style of the items he describes, often ignoring the textile type or color. Bateman incisively answers his friends' and co-workers' queries, authoritatively explicating the difference between various types of mineral water, which tie knot is less bulky than a Windsor knot, and the proper way to wear a cummerbund, pocket square, and tie bar.

Bateman's employment at Pierce & Pierce is apparently unnecessary. His father owns another successful company, which is revealed during a conversation between Patrick and his ex-girlfriend when she inquires as to why he would work at P&P. Upon questioning, the sole justification for still working is, in his own words, "I... want... to... fit... in." Because he doesn't need to work, he is supreme in his own world; he usually comes to work late — sometimes by more than an hour — and indulges in long lunches. Despite these advantages, Bateman's envy of his peers runs throughout the novel. In a scene in which characters compare business cards, Bateman panics when he realizes a friend's card is superior to his because it includes a watermark. Just as Bateman is obsessed with wealth and symbols of it, he repeatedly expresses a converse loathing of poor people.

[edit] Murder descriptions

American Psycho generated much controversy for Ellis's graphic description of Bateman's murders. Many include some form of sexual abuse or torture by Bateman, in which graphic language is used to describe the scene. Many of the murders themselves involve various forms of mutilation, including genital mutilation. In one section of the novel, Bateman forces a tube into a woman's vagina and lets a rat loose inside of her. After pulling the tube out he continues to saw her in half with a chainsaw. Ellis also provides detailed descriptions of Bateman examining the internal organs of some of his victims after murdering them, as well as scenes in which Bateman cooks and eats human body parts. Bateman at one point says that he tries to "make meat loaf out of the girl but it becomes too frustrating a task and instead I spend the afternoon smearing her meat all over the walls, chewing on strips of skin I ripped from her body". Others include Bateman's murder of a child at the New York City Zoo, as well as the killing of a dog.

[edit] Controversy

The book was originally to have been published by Simon & Schuster in March 1991, but the company withdrew from the project because of "aesthetic differences". Vintage Books purchased the rights to the novel and published the book after the customary editing process. The book was never published in hardcover form in the United States, although a deluxe paperback was eventually offered.[6] Ellis received numerous death threats and hate mail after the publication of American Psycho.[7][8]

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem was among those opposed to the release of Ellis' book because of its portrayal of violence toward women. Steinem is also the stepmother of Christian Bale, who portrayed Bateman in the film adaptation of the novel. This coincidence is mentioned in Ellis' mock memoir Lunar Park.

In Germany, the book was deemed "harmful to minors", and its sales and marketing were severely restricted from 1995 to 2000.

In Australia, the book is sold shrink-wrapped and is classified "R18" under national censorship legislation. The book may not be sold to those under 18 years of age, or criminal prosecution may result. Along with other Category 1 publications, its sale is theoretically banned in the state of Queensland and it may only be purchased shrink-wrapped. In Brisbane, the novel is available to those over 18 from all public libraries and can still be ordered and purchased (shrink-wrapped) from many book stores despite this prohibition.[9]

In New Zealand, the Government's Office of Film & Literature Classification has rated the book as R18. The book may not be sold or lent in libraries to those under 18 years of age. It is generally sold shrink wrapped in bookstores.

[edit] Adaptations

Main article: American Psycho (film)

In 2009, Audible.com produced an audio version of American Psycho, narrated by Pablo Schreiber, as part of its Modern Vanguard line of audiobooks.[10]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/feb/11/easton-ellis-generation Guardian review of Ellis's lasting influence.
  2. ^ Metacritic reviews for American Psycho
  3. ^ Kelly, Alison (2010-06-27). "Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis". guardian.co.uk, The Observer. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/27/imperial-bedrooms-bret-easton-ellis-book-review. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  4. ^ Baker, Jeff (July 2010). "Q&A: Bret Easton Ellis talks about writing novels, making movies". California Chronicle. http://www.californiachronicle.com/articles/yb/147172399. Retrieved 2010-07-09. 
  5. ^ "Allow Bret Easton Ellis to Introduce You to Alison Poole, A.K.A. Rielle Hunter". New York Magazine. 2008-08-06. http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2008/08/allow_bret_easton_ellis_to_int.html. Retrieved 2008-08-06. 
  6. ^ http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,318714,00.html
  7. ^ Messier, Vartan (2005). "Canons of Transgression: Shock, Scandal, and Subversion from Matthew Lewis's The Monk to Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho" (pdf). Dissertation Abstracts International 43 (4): 1085 ff. http://grad.uprm.edu/tesis/messiervartan.pdf.  (University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez). Chapter Pornography and Violence: The Dialectics of Transgression in Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho provides an in-depth analysis of the novel.
  8. ^ Bret Easton Ellis at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ Government of Australia National Classification Scheme http://www.classification.gov.au/www/cob/find.nsf/d853f429dd038ae1ca25759b0003557c/2023ef4569c5697eca2576710078a49f!OpenDocument
  10. ^ Audible Announces New Modern Vanguard Line of Audiobooks. International Business Times http://markets.ibtimes.com/ibtimes/?Page=MediaViewer&GUID=9742903&Ticker=AMZN

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