Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Teach him he's alive before he wishes he was dead

Images of parents who were so hungry and unfulfilled that they ate their own children...images so violent and malicious that they seemed to be my only point of reference for a long time afterwards. After I left.
-Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

Bret Easton Ellis has officially run out of ideas. I first read Less Than Zero when I was a freshman in college (appropriately) and I pretty much hated every character, but it made an impression on me. It wasn't until a bit later that I realized I was supposed to hate every character, and that Zero wasn't necessarily supposed to be entertainment. It was a document, so to speak, of a life. It seems too extreme to be real, painting as it does a world so full of drugs, materialistic consumption, power, money, and fame, that its inhabitants have become completely removed from any kind of reality. They are totally devoid of feeling. In one scene, a bunch of kids sit around a Malibu mansion watching a snuff film that was purchased on the street that contains children being tortured. In another, some friends of the main character tie a 12-year-old girl to a bed at a party in West Hollywood, shoot her full of drugs and take turns raping her. The main character's (and narrator's) response to this? To walk out on the balcony and say, "It's not right, what you're doing."

It is a disturbing book, to be sure, but I'm also not completely sure it's fiction, which is the point. It's a post-modern conundrum at its finest. It's an amoral document that dares you to be offended, but then says, "Hey, this is just my life, what I've seen. I just call it as I see it."

Ellis is at his best when he is plotless. When his characters simply move through life and events and observe. His next to last book, Lunar Park, was such a meta-analytical mess, it revealed a man who appeared to be seriously off his rocker. The main character's name was Bret Easton Ellis, but it's not the same BEE that wrote the book. The one in the book is heterosexual (everyone knows the real BEE is gay), lives in the northeastern suburbs, and has children. But he was also a writer, who, I believe, wrote American Psycho, I'm not sure. Anyway, he wrote something about children being murdered, and then, the plot of Lunar Park is about a real-life murderer who is reenacting the murders in the book with children from the fictional BEE's neighborhood, and then starts coming after his children. And then there was something about the BEE character's dead father showing up as a ghost, or something. I don't remember. Jay McInerney (one of my favorite contemporary novelists) also makes a cameo in the book as himself, but was apparently none too pleased with how he was portrayed. But it was a mess and ridiculous. Too much plot, which could have been interesting in hands that are perhaps more skilled in the art of storytelling.

Last week I just finished BEE's latest, Imperial Bedrooms, supposedly a sequel to Less Than Zero, but only because he says it is. It concerns Clay, the narrator of Zero, but in Bedrooms, in another meta-analytical twist so confusing it makes your head spin, he claims to have not written the book. He also claims that he and all his friends were invited to the movie premiere, and were stunned when the movie was nothing like the book, and thus, they felt their lives had been stolen by Hollywood and made into an after-school special. So in Imperial Bedrooms, both the book and the movie of Less Than Zero exist, but it's really BEE commenting on them through his narrator. Nothing happens in the book except some people get brutally murdered, and in one particularly noteworthy but completely superfluous chapter, Clay, again the narrator, hires young boy and girl prostitutes to come out to Palm Springs with him where sexually tortures and debases them for no reason except to do it. Towards the end of the chapter, the girl prostitute, after having tried to escape but being caught and brought back tells Clay that he has made her believe in God again after being an atheist. Why? Because she was in hell, and the Devil lived in Palm Springs. Admittedly, it was a chilling moment in the book, but not worth what came before it. Especially since there was no reason for it to be there except to say that Clay, that young, impressionable and sensitive narrator who fled Los Angeles once and for all at the end of Less Than Zero, has nevertheless become a heartless product of his environment (the film industry and Hollywood) 25 years later. There is some sort of mystery of mistaken identity going on throughout the book (I think...) but it's only a mystery because no one speaks in complete sentences and because the characters in the book want it to be. The Hollywood cliches are all there (the struggling starlets; the lifers in the industry who have had so much plastic surgery they are no longer recognizable; the drugs; the sexual debasing; more snuff films uploaded onto the internet whose validity the characters debate; etc etc.). It's all so tiresome at this point.

I still think Less Than Zero is a great book, and provides the perfect backdrop for an era (the mid-80's). Rules of Attraction is also fantastic, and shows BEE actually dealing with at least a couple of people who actually have hearts and feel pain. And which was made into a pretty faithful movie adaptation, strangely enough, considering its shifting narrative and POV. American Psycho I've not read, though I feel like I have. Glamoramma and Lunar Park are both pieces of shit.

I try not to judge the artist by the art, though I always do anyway. I think Bret Easton Ellis is probably either a horrible person, or someone in so much pain, like his altar-ego Clay, who feels he must torture and rape innocent children just to prove that he still has power. Imperial Bedrooms is a completely empty novel, written by an individual wanting desperately to cash in on a famous name (the previous novel) but having no basis for actually doing so. It's too bad. It cheapens the original. Whatever hope, or salvation, or light, no matter how small, that was presented at the end of Less Than Zero by Clay turning his back on his life and disappearing, is rendered moot with this book. Is BEE trying to say that no matter what, we all turn into monsters? Or is he saying that when faced with such a barrage of banal evil, no one is actually strong enough to pull away? Whatever the case, all hope is lost. And Clay hires people to torture his best friend to death and put videos of it on the internet because he's jealous of a girl. That's the kind of boring, unimaginative low this book stoops to.

Whatever the message, it's no longer a message I'm interested in listening to.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Bad Moon Rising

Despite my often loud and frequent claims to the contrary, I don't disbelieve in god. I don't believe in god, either. I definitely am not a christian. I just don't purport to claim to actually know what exists out there, but I'm pretty certain it's not some dude who somehow appeared at the beginning of time and acts as a personal therapist to everyone on earth and concerns himself with minutiae of our dull and dreary day to day lives. But I do think there's something, some spiritual plane of existence that we mere mortals will never understand or really know about as long as we're part of this mortal coil.

But it's also possible I have to believe that in order to reconcile the fact that I believe in ghosts. Without a doubt. And maybe in vampires too, but not nearly as strongly, and not like they are in the movies. But ghosts? Yes, absolutely. Mostly just because I want to. Which is how I view religion as well. People believe because they want to, because they simply make the choice to, or not to.

Earlier tonight I was reading a review of that movie Session 9, which is really fucking scary, and all about ghosts and insane people. So I decided to look up the Danvers State Hospital, where the movie takes place, and where it was filmed. And, incidentally, according to Wikipedia, was built on the hill where most of the women were executed that had been convicted of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. There's a lot going on there.

Danvers State Hospital

Anyhoo, someone got the brilliant idea of turning the now abandoned Danvers hospital (also rumored to be the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy) and turn it into "luxury condos" (is there any other kind...?). I mean, seriously??? Would you live there?

I can say that I would not. I like the idea of it, but I would be way too freaked out all the time, seeing and hearing ghoulies every place I went. And I wouldn't be wrong. No thank you. I mean, I know every place that humans have ever lived is haunted and ghosts surround us all the time. But why put yourself in a place that has seen such misery and torment and violence?

Seriously, you're just asking for trouble.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

It's true

I'm back.

I decided recently that one reason I stopped blogging was because I never really warmed up to my new blog. When I moved I thought it would be real fun to start over, start fresh, reinvent myself yet again. But just as I never truly warmed up to my new city in any way that felt terribly meaningful, I also never warmed up to my new blog. Even just typing in this entry feels like home again. Also, I guess, I've been really fucking busy, but that's also winding to a close. I have approximately 3 hours left of my graduate school career. Huzzah! It also started to feel like not a single person was actually reading it, which is as it is.

So faced with the prospect of looming unemployment, no school to go to, and a new city where I will know 1 and a half people (a good friend of mine and her husband that I've met once, hence the half person), I figure I might have lots of time to be writing about my musings on whatever it is I'm doing or not doing.

I took almost 2 hours last night to read back through old entries on this here bloggy, and realized how much I enjoyed doing it. So I will start again, and maybe someone besides me will enjoy it. Maybe not, but if nothing else, I would like to simply get back into the habit of writing more frequently. Keeps my brain nimble. And keeps me interested in things.

I hope you'll start coming back to visit me again!