BY ANDREW MOODY
“Across the board, identity politics endorse the concept that people are essentially tribal, and our differences are irreconcilable, which of course makes diversity and inclusion impossible. This is the toxic dead-end of identity politics; it’s a trap.”
It took me a long time to read American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis’s first non fiction book WHITE, and I must confess it was disappointing. By the time he’s writing a twenty page assessment of a tweet he sent seven years ago late into the book, you realise he’s got no idea where he’s going with this. After a thirty year career, sticking to fiction would be a wise move:
“Now I was trolling. And my desire was to have a good time, to be a provocative, somewhat outrageous and opinionated critic, to be a bad boy, a douche, to lead my own dance in this writers’ funhouse—all in 140 characters or less—and it became a problem for my Twitter self.”
I’m not sure of its current sales, but I read that White has been an instant flop. Whether or not Ellis can return from the one thing he’s always felt assured of – literary sales – is difficult to know. His last novel was back in 2009, and he’s done little of note since then, despite being a constant media presence. When Trump was elected, he tweeted, then hastily deleted, the words:
Somewhere, Patrick Bateman is laughing…
Ellis reveals he didn’t vote, California being a safe Democrat state, but later confesses:
“just months before the election, it truly felt we were entering into an authoritarian cultural moment fostered by the Left—what had once been my side of the aisle, though I couldn’t even recognize it anymore.”
On American Psycho:
“I began to realize that the standard hallmarks of gay male culture had been appropriated by straight male culture with the emergence of the heterosexual male dandy, something that had begun with the popularity of GQ magazine and American Gigolo at the dawn of the ’80s. The competition between these guys was overwhelming: the one-upmanship and bragging bordered at times on the threatening, and during this particular meal (the last one, it turned out) I suddenly decided—apropos of nothing in particular—that Patrick Bateman would be a serial killer. Or would imagine himself to be. (I never knew if it was one or the other, which in turn made the novel compelling to write. Is the answer more interesting than the mystery itself? I never thought so.)”
Judging from the reaction of the author to the indifferent commercial response to WHITE, on Twitter, Ellis appears to be trolling his 500,000 followers for not buying it – unwise.
Whilst Ellis is a clever writer, WHITE feels worn out, certain pages recycled from previously published articles, and it’s obvious from early on that he is only capable of writing subjectively, having been a celebrity since the 1980’s and clearly still fascinated by his own fame as a writer even when sabotaging himself with childish debauchery.
The title is both a reference to his skin colour, but also to the cocaine he has been so fascinated by his entire career. Ellis is a novelist at heart, not a journalist. There is a difference, and this awkward, pretentious (and rushed) book, so late in the game, could well destroy his legacy.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @VoguishFiction