American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, is a story of a yuppie in New York City, by day an elitist working on Wall Street and by night a sexual sadist. Patrick Bateman is an intriguing character as he catalogs the entirety of his morning routine and his colleagues’ outfits. Where at first this is tedious to read, it then becomes concerning as the reader begins to wonder about the mental state of the narrator. Even after being over a hundred pages into the novel and no one is murdered, the reader still gets a glimpse into the disturbing mind of Patrick Bateman as he slips in a comment about murder as causal as a comment about the weather or his favorite band. It’s almost as disturbing that his peers don’t pick up on his references to murder, mocking the Upper East Side’s selfish culture.
It is disturbing when we are placed in a situation where we see though the eyes of a serial killer. It is one thing reading about a horrific murder in the newspaper, but a totally different and terrifying feeling when you are reading a description of a horrific murder through the perspective of the monster who did it. American Psycho is a controversial book; Paul Bernardo, a serial killer, called American Psycho his bible, and knowing this I’m not surprised that the novel is considered harmful to minors. In many cases, you can’t buy this book or check it out from a library if you are under eighteen years old. The novel wasn’t even sold as hardcover in the United States until 2012, and Ellis, entertained by this, said in a New York Times interview that he “thinks it’s adorable”, “it” being the fact that many are disturbed by his work.
The idea of a serial killer embodying anything other than a grotesque monster is disturbing; much less a handsome, successful young man. This idea was first made apparent with Ted Bundy, a handsome man using his good looks and charm as a ploy to his victims. Patrick Bateman uses this same method for his victims; no one suspects a good-looking, charming man. Katherine Ramsland’s article suggests that Ted Bundy’s fate is almost anticipated, as he had interests with knives, death, and injury at the age of three. You can see the roots of Bundy’s disturbing future, yet with Patrick Bateman we are thrown into the life of the twenty-seven year old. As readers, we don’t get any pretense for why Bateman is the way he is except for a reference to being a child of divorce, which would suggest the same fate for other children of divorce like myself. Bateman is a perfect example of an unreliable narrator, only adding to its genre of horror fiction. At the end of the novel we are left wondering what is real and what isn’t, and we find ourselves in a similar situation as the main character. Ellis’ research has created a perfect monster as we watch Bateman begin the novel with control and we watch him unravel into his insanity, living up to the novel’s title. The title can be broken down literally as a man from America who kills people; American Psycho. Yet aside from the murders and torture, the novel is satire towards the rich American culture, mocking the ridiculous things that get people worked up, like reservations at Dorsia or the font on a business card. Where it’s a joke that things like this would drive someone to murder, for Patrick Bateman it’s literal.
Ellis, Bret Easton. American Psycho: A Novel. New York: Vintage Books, Random House, Inc., 1991. Print.
Ramsland, Katherine. “Imagining Ted Bundy.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, Inc., 24 Aug. 2012. Web. 09 Mar. 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing/201208/imagining-ted-bundy.
Cohen, Roger. “Bret Easton Ellis Answers Critics of ‘American Psycho'”. The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 06 Mar. 1991. Web. 28 Feb. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/03/06/books/bret-easton-ellis-answers-critics-of-american-psycho.html?pagewanted=all.
Hannah Williams is from Boulder, Colorado. She recently moved to Portland, Oregon to attend Portland State University and study graphic design.