August 10, 2010
PSA: I Hated Bret Easton Ellis' Sequel to Less Than Zero
Posted by Christine Hurt

I have to admit that nostalgia reeled me in to buying the Kindle version of Imperial Bedrooms, the sequel to Less Than Zero.  That 1985 book was of course made into the sanitized 1987 movie starring Kevin McCarthy, Jami Gertz and Robert Downey Jr.  During the summer of 1990, I read every book that Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney had written (I worked in a library).  Since then, my favorite McInerney book is his Brightness Falls (how many books do you know that combine LBOs and the publishing world?), and his 2007 sequel The Good Life.  So, I blame nostalgia.

If I had been smart, I would have realized that there aren't very many favorable reviews of the book; here is the NYT Book Review, for example.  One Salon review tries to preempt my disappointment by saying that "detractors will hate" this "beautiful foray into ugliness," but I notice it was written by Barnes & Noble, who would surely like you to buy the book.

So, why is it so bad?  Well, I hated Ellis' 1991 American Psycho, and Imperial Bedrooms is a strange lovechild of Less Than Zero and that book, which profiled a young Wall Street player who is either a sadistic, cannabalistic, necrophliac serial killer or a deranged psychotic (or both, I suppose).  The plot line is intriguing, but the details are pretty hard to stomach.  In Imperial Bedrooms, our hero Clay, who we last saw in Less Than Zero rejecting the amorality of the L.A. party scene to return to the East Coast, seems to have become the American Psycho while in NY, and brought a little of it back to the L.A. party scene, which is unchanged except for the introduction of cell phones.  And, the details are hard to stomach.  And, unlike American Psycho, which has some literary value, this book has little to offer to make one want to skim over these parts to get to the story.

The most interesting part of the book comes at the beginning, but is never touched again.  The first three pages or so chronicle how "They had made a movie about us."  The conceit is that "the author" had written a book about Clay, Julian and Blair, making Clay the narrator, and that the book was made into a movie.  Now, the real Clay is narrating this book and resents the fact that "the author" had stolen their story and changed it into a skewed piece of fiction.  The first book's author isn't named, but plot facts seem to point to a character named Trent, if it is a named character, who in the second book is married to Blair.  But, of course, this creates cleverness on many levels: 

Real author Ellis gets to use Real Clay to critique what Real Ellis wrote 25 years ago. 

Real Clay gets to present himself in a better light, which is ironic because the character moves from "cold" and "passive" to violently active. 

Real Ellis gets to complain about how the Less Than Zero movie was so different from the book and why the  post-modernism of the book was converted to an anti-drug message of consequences and redemption. 

Real Ellis gets to make a book sequel that is ready-for-movie-adaptation by bringing back to life the Julian (Robert Downey, Jr.) character the movie version had killed off without thinking ahead.   

And, Real Ellis gets to compliment Robert Downey, Jr. and possibly butter him up for the movie adaptation of the second book.

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