It is difficult to write a novel in which the narrator is meant to be despised, but not so much so that readers will put the book down and not pick it up again. I put American Psycho down twice and took long breaks from it before I completed it, yet I count it as one of my favorite books. It is not an easy read, and it is not simply the violence that appalls, but the impunity with which it is committed. It offends our sense of justice as we are forced to watch someone so brazenly “get away with it” over and over again. This is one of the major themes of the book. It is about people (the wealthy) who get away with it.
The point of view is first person, present tense, which psychologically puts us right next to Patrick Bateman as he spouts his encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and pop culture just before blinding a homeless man or murdering a child to satisfy his curiosity. But it is women who take the brunt of his sadism. We read chapter after chapter as he murders and mutilates women in ways so graphic and horrifying they seem peeled from torture scenes of medieval etchings. The striking thing about the violence is that it crescendos, it gets worse each chapter, as if Ellis is challenging himself to devise new horrors that are worse than the previous ones. He offers no respite for the reader.
I count it as one of my favorite books because of the power of the writing. As graphic as what Ellis describes, it is the way in which he describes it that kept me interested and kept me reading. It reminds me of what has been written about Lolita, that the beauty of Nabokov’s writing shields the ugliness of what the main character does. But there is a moral judgement in Lolita that such an effect is unconscionable. So it is here, sort of.
American Psycho is not for the faint of heart, and that is meant more for writers than for readers. While American Psycho is not for the squeamish reader, emulating the writing style of Ellis in this book is for the truly courageous.