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Definition: Ellis, Bret Easton from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US novelist. Writing in a cold, dispassionate style, he is best known for his highly controversial novel American Psycho (1991; filmed 2000), a savage and bloody satire on 1980s consumerism.

Other novels include Less Than Zero (1985; filmed 1987), a rites-of-passage novel dealing with the alienation of affluent youth; The Rules of Attraction (1987; filmed 2002), about sex on a college campus; The Informers (1994; filmed 2009), a collection of interrelated short stories; Glamorama (1999), a critical look at the fashion industry; Lunar Park (2005), an allegorical ghost story written as a memoir, and Imperial Bedrooms (2010), a sequel to Less Than Zero.


Bret Easton Ellis

Summary Article: Ellis, Bret Easton (b. 1964)
from Encyclopedia of Contemporary LGBTQ Literature of the United States

Controversial contemporary gay novelist and short story writer. Bret Easton Ellis was born in suburban Los Angeles to wealthy parents and attended exclusive private schools before enrolling at the prestigious Bennington College, from which he graduated in 1986. Though there are many gay and bisexual characters in his novels and short stories, Ellis denied he was gay until he formally came out of the closet during an interview in 2005.

Ellis began drafting his first novel, Less Than Zero, while still in high school; it was published in 1985 while he was an undergraduate student. A Bildungsroman narrated in the first person by its protagonist, Clayton, it offers a nihilistic view of modern life in pithy Hemingwayesque prose. Like the book's young author, Clayton is the only son of wealthy parents in California and he attends Camden College, an imaginary liberal arts college in New Hampshire that resembles Bennington College. Clayton returns to his family home during the Christmas holiday, and the narrative focuses on his experiences during a four-week period. He reconnects with his friends and resumes his life of drinking, using drugs, and going to late-night parties. He wants to rekindle his relationship with Blair, a young woman with whom he believes he is in love, but he has at least one casual homosexual encounter and forges a close bond with his childhood friend, Julian, who is now a drug-addicted gay prostitute. As Clayton descends deeper into the life of sex, drugs, and alcohol, he incrementally becomes disillusioned by his friends’ casual attitude toward violence and sadistic sexuality. When his holiday ends he returns to his college campus numbed by the meaninglessness of what he has witnessed and experienced.

The Rules of Attraction, Ellis's second novel, was published in 1987; it chronicles the lives of a group of students from wealthy families who attend Camden College. A polyvocal text—the story is narrated by a chorus of characters in the first person, often in the form of personal journal entries and letters—the narrative centers on the lives of its three major characters: Sean Bateman, Lauren Hynde, and Paul Denton. All three have multiple sexual partners and Paul, in addition to sleeping with other men and women, offers in his diary entries descriptions of lovemaking sessions with Sean, who may or may not be bisexual. The nihilistic ennui in Less Than Zero is apparent in The Rules of Attraction as well; much of the narrative is about the characters’ escapist retreat into sex, drugs, and alcohol.

It was American Psycho (1991), Ellis's third novel, that catapulted him into literary notoriety. Paul Bateman, its narrator, is simultaneously an investment banker and a sadistic serial killer. Like many of Ellis's characters, Bateman is sexually ambivalent, although he is primarily heterosexual. He chronicles in graphic details his many murders that often begin with shocking sexual violence and escalate into mutilation and cannibalism. Yet it is unclear if Bateman is a reliable narrator and if indeed his claims are real or delusional. The novel elicited calls for boycott from the National Organization for Women because of its misogynistic violence, and Simon & Schuster, the company that had initially planned to publish it, terminated its contract with Ellis. It was subsequently published by Vintage Press; in 2000, when the controversy surrounding the book had significantly waned, it was made into a film.

The Informers (1994) is a collection of 13 interconnected short stories. The setting is suburban Los Angeles that is presented as a moral and cultural wasteland. In this collection of short stories, much more so than in his earlier works, Ellis emerges as an incisive satirist. Rather than merely document the wasted lives of its characters who seek transcendence through alcohol, drugs, and promiscuous sex, Ellis examines the roots of their alienation and the sources of their disconnection from themselves and from the others around them.

Ellis's two most recent novels, Glamorama (1998) and Lunar Park (2005), are similar in tenor to his earlier works; they are marked by the same sense of inertia and peopled by characters who unsuccessfully seek meaning through often self-destructive means. From a narrative perspective, however, these two works reveal bolder postmodernist experimentation. Glamorama is a picaresque novel with a trans-Atlantic setting in which several contemporary American celebrities, including Ellis, briefly appear as characters. Lunar Park is a pseudoautobiographical narrative. The narrator is named Bret Easton Ellis, a well-known novelist; however, unlike the author, the character who bears his name lives with his movie star wife, their 11-year-old son, and the wife's 6-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. At the conclusion of the novel, Ellis, the protagonist, is falling in love with a man much younger than he. While there are some obvious parallels between Ellis the author and Ellis the narrator, there are also several disconnections. A poignant parallel is the novel's ending: in 2005 Ellis acknowledged that he had been in a relationship with Michael Wade Kaplan, a much younger man, who died of a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 30. Lunar Park is dedicated to Kaplan.

Further Reading
  • Flannigan, Roy C. “Bret Easton Ellis.” In Twenty-First Century American Novelists, edited by Suzanne Dishroon-Green, 87-93. Thomson Gale Detroit 2004.
  • Sydney, Trevor A.
    Copyright 2009 by Emmanuel S. Nelson

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