Date Published: March 6, 1991
Book Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Summary reviewed by:
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"In the glitzy, soulless canyons of Manhattan's elite, a killer lurks." American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis plunges readers deep into the debauched world of Patrick Bateman, a young and affluent Wall Street investment banker. The novel unfolds in the neon-lit corridors of 1980s New York City, a playground for the uber-rich where everything is permissible. Bateman is impeccably dressed, well-educated, and owns every luxury imaginable. But beneath his polished veneer lies a churning void of nihilism. As days blend into nights, Bateman's superficial interactions with colleagues, lovers, and the pantheon of city dwellers grow increasingly grotesque. He shares inordinate details about designer clothing, fine dining, and the latest music hits, but these mundane chronicles soon give way to chilling confessions. Ellis paints a world where humanity is lost to materialism and where, disturbingly, a man's psychopathic tendencies can lurk unnoticed amidst skyscrapers and soirées.
Spoilers (click here to reveal spoilers)
As American Psycho spirals to its unnerving climax, the delineation between Patrick Bateman's reality and hallucination becomes blurred. His heinous acts of violence escalate, suggesting a complete loss of control. However, the world around him remains indifferent or in disbelief. When Bateman confesses his crimes to a lawyer, the lawyer mistakes him for someone else and dismisses the confession as a joke. This indifference to Bateman’s sadistic nature culminates in a haunting ambiguity: Are these murders real or mere products of a fractured mind, drowned by the superficiality of its environment?
Patrick Bateman: A polished Wall Street banker with an obsession for luxury and a deep-seated urge for violence. Behind his charming facade, he struggles with existential emptiness, demonstrated when he coldly dissects Huey Lewis and the News’ discography before a murder.
Jean: Bateman’s naive and devoted secretary. Despite being surrounded by opulence, she values genuine connection, evidenced by her genuine concern for Bateman’s wellbeing amidst his erratic behavior.
Evelyn Richards: Bateman’s status-obsessed fiancée. Her fixation on societal expectations mirrors Bateman’s own obsession, seen in her painstaking attention to wedding details while ignoring his blatant disinterest.
Paul Owen: A fellow banker and Bateman’s rival. He embodies the cutthroat competitiveness of Wall Street, which Bateman detests, leading to one of the novel’s most notorious scenes involving an axe.
Materialism and Superficiality: The novel showcases a world enslaved to brands, wealth, and appearances. Bateman’s detailed descriptions of everyone’s attire, right down to the brand, underscores society’s shallowness.
Dehumanization and Alienation: Amidst NYC’s skyscrapers, individuals become indistinct, their identities lost. This is poignantly reflected when Bateman’s own lawyer can’t recognize him.
Duality of Man: Bateman is both a suave banker and a monstrous killer, highlighting the duality within us all. This is evident in his seamless shift from discussing Phil Collins to committing heinous acts.
Indifference of Society: Bateman’s actions, no matter how extreme, go largely unnoticed, a testament to the world’s apathy. This culminates when his explicit confession is met with disbelief.
Mental Unraveling: Bateman’s tenuous grasp on reality, where hallucinations and the real world blur, serves as a chilling reminder of the fragility of sanity. This descent is epitomized in his increasing panic and erratic episodes throughout the story.
What You Need to Know
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis offers readers a chilling foray into the life of Patrick Bateman, a suave Wall Street banker with a sinister underbelly, set against the decadent backdrop of 1980s Manhattan. While on the surface Bateman epitomizes luxury and prestige, a deeper probe reveals a man teetering on the brink of insanity. Ellis' narrative adeptly captures the stark dichotomy between opulent superficiality and hidden depravity. A testament to the novel's artful construction, its plot progression can be distilled into just two pivotal bullet points: Bateman’s meticulous immersion in materialism, punctuated by unsettling acts of violence; and society's haunting indifference, where even his most monstrous deeds go unnoticed. This work isn't just a psychological thriller, but a searing commentary on the perils of unchecked materialism, societal alienation, and the duality of human nature. Encountering Bateman’s descent into chaos, one is compelled to question the nature of reality and the thin veil separating civility from barbarism.