Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Imperial Bedrooms

A week or so ago I went to Barnes and Noble. This is rather a banal store but that day I was excited because Bret Easton Ellis' new novel "Imperial Bedrooms," was out. I picked up a copy right away. I brought it to the cashier and told her I was excited about reading it.

"Cool," she replied. "Do you have a Barnes & Noble card?"
"No," I said.
"Would you like one? It save you 10% on your next purchase of $30 or more."
"Do you need your parking validated?"
"Nope. You're pretty good at the list of things you have to say to customers."
"Thanks," she replied in a dead pan voice. "I'm also good at dealing with the constant rejection."

The minimalistic novel is easy to read with its terse style. The bareness of the writing allows its salient yet unsaid emotions pour forth. The exuding feelings mainly deal with the lead character, Clay, a successful screenwriter's rampant narcissism. Ellis points to Clay's neuroticism with his opening quote of Raymond Chandler. "There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself."

Clay returns to L.A. just as Ellis returns to the same characters as he did previously in "Less than Zero." "Imperial Bedrooms" is a sequel to Ellis' first novel of glamorous vapidity of young rich kids in the 80s. The kids do coke, do each other, and listen to the Pyschedelic Furs. Its awesome. "Imperial Bedrooms" is set in modern times and in a the oh so modern world of Hollywood (not the town but the spectacular ambiance).

The novel is dark and empty. This is depicted early on when Ellis describes the view from the balcony of the main characters condo.

"The view is impressive without becoming a study in isolation; it's more intimate than the one a friend had who lived on Appian Way, which was so far above the city it seemed as if you were looking at a vast and abandoned world laid out in anonymous grids and quadrants, a view that confirmed you were much more alone than you thought you were, a view that inspired the flickering thoughts of suicide. (p12,13)"

The majority of the characters in Ellis' first novel abound and the feelings are the same. Clay moves around without a moral compass, and has a variety of ambiguous relationships. His primary relationship is with a young actress whom he has the hots for, but her agenda is unclear. She stays with him for a week but its unclear completely why. Clay has promised that he can get her a part in his upcoming film, in which he is the screenwriter, but the producers nix her due to her poor acting ability. He strings her along as he becomes not only fixated on her but also emotionally dependent.

Clay and the girl fall out eventually due to a variety of soap opera incidents, for example; she's revealed to be a former prostitute from a highly selective service and has slept with many of his vapid friends. His vapid friends have also fallen madly in love with her, coincidentally enough.

The novel also demonstrates Ellis growth as a writer. While retaining the minimalistic style of his first novel he also describes a vivid and surreal scene of violent debauchery reminiscent of the infamous "American Pyscho," made famous not for the movie adaptation, nor for the gratuitous violence but for the lengthy rants on Genesis and Phil Collins.

What is also interesting about this novel is the use of technology. The main characters repeatedly use email and text messaging as valid ways of communicating with each other. Most contemporary novelists seem hesitant to talk about the way in which modern tech has changed the way in which we talk to each other.

The end of the novel, this isn't a spoiler by the way, is much the same as the beginning. Nothing has happened, the compass still spins directionlessly mad, the vapid despair of life in modern society is retained and the main character still clings to the safety of narcissism. All too true.

Check out Details interview with Ellis here. I enjoyed the interview


d said...

Have you discovered Tao Lin yet? His novella 'Shoplifting from American Apparel' and all that. He uses gmail chats a lot.

Letters 4 is out soon, with your stories in it. You will get copies.

dawnfurious said...

nice. Ellis is a favorite of mine. his bleak,emotionless, vapid despair w/in society is the best of its' kind.