Review: American Psycho

American Psycho

American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679735779, 1991, 416pp.)

The Short of It:

Highly stylized, sophisticated and gruesome.

The Rest of It:

I read this one as part of the Dueling Monsters challenge. Having read its competitor, Red Dragon years ago…I expected American Psycho to be a walk in the park. I don’t think I could have been more wrong.

The book opens innocently enough and to be fair, the dastardly deeds don’t even begin until several chapters in, but what you get by way of introduction is that Patrick Bateman, with all his yuppiness and OCD tendencies is a piece of work.

Each chapter begins with a paragraph long description of what Bateman is wearing, along with what everyone else is wearing. All the designer labels are represented here as well as every household brand you can possibly imagine. The story takes place in the 80’s and Ellis makes sure you know this by dedicating entire chapters to the music of that time. As frustrating as these constructs were, they did serve their purpose because for every mundane entry, there is a gruesome counterpart and if it weren’t for those well-placed breaks, I’d have given up on it.

Patrick Bateman is one sick puppy, but at the same time he’s smart and dare I say it? Charming? Yes, he is that and the women seem to know it. Both the women in his immediate circle, as well as the prostitutes he picks up to satisfy his thirst for blood. He’s a modern-day vampire except he has better clothes, a tan and perfect teeth. There were times where I thought him to be quite funny. His days are spent on Wall Street doing what, I really have no idea; he does very little in the way of work, but at night it’s one posh restaurant after another and it all happens after much conversation over who has the better reservation and whether or not that restaurant has easy access to drugs. These parts were highly amusing. And although he has a thing for the ladies, he does not discriminate.

In between the partying, there is horror. Lots of it. Bateman’s need for human blood and flesh is not easily controlled. At times, he openly admits to his horrible deeds, yet no one takes him seriously when he admits it. After having his way with his victims, he tortures them mercilessly in the most horrific ways possible and sometimes he kills them. Other times, he just pays them more to endure it. These scenes are incredibly graphic and I have an iron stomach. At one point, I told another blogger that I sort of liked Bateman. Then, I read a chapter that I could not “unsee” once I had read it and I immediately went on Twitter and told her I was out of my mind for saying what I did.

To give you an idea of the torturous acts he performs, here is a tiny list that doesn’t even go into the real depravity contained within its pages:

  • Stabbing homeless people and then hurting their dogs
  • Inserting live animals into body orifices while the victim is alive
  • Utilizing tools such as drills and nail scissors to mutilate and cause pain
  • Hooking up car batteries to various parts of the body (while alive)
  • Using a Bic lighter to boil someone’s eyeballs (yes, while alive)

And that my friends, is just a small taste of what Ellis cooks up for Bateman and his victims and I haven’t even mentioned the sex scenes which are very detailed and include penetration into every possible orifice imaginable.

I was literally shaking when I finished the book. I saw those images for DAYS, weeks even. I could not get them out of my mind and what troubled me the most is that Ellis actually thought this stuff up. The last 100 pages were incredibly hard to read but I felt as if I had to know how it turned out, and having finished the book, I can say that the ending does not surprise me.

I am conflicted over this one because it was highly disturbing to read, yet at the same time, I was fascinated by Bateman. I wanted to get into his head and Ellis provides lots of opportunities for that. In fact, there were some moments where I really felt as if Bateman wanted to be caught. That he too, felt badly about the outcome of his trysts and that in his own way, he missed those women. I guess it’s that “charm” thing coming through again. I’m not sure.

One thing that is for sure, is that this book has a huge following. After talking about it on Twitter with some of the other bloggers, a guy with the name Bateman started following us! That totally freaked me out. Reading about a serial killer as twisted as Bateman, and then some random guy with the same name starts following you?? I almost stopped tweeting about it at that point.

In addition to the book, a movie was made which stars Christian Bale and a bunch of others including Reese Witherspoon. I’m not sure I can work up the courage to see the movie but I have to admit, I am a little curious to see how it was done.

American Psycho Movie

If you have a weak stomach, this book is definitely not for you but if you appreciate dry humor, pokes at consumerism and love a good psychological thriller, you might be okay with it. Just know that you will NEVER “unsee” the scenes portrayed in the book. Weeks ago, I was stuffing a roast with garlic and what I thought about while doing it, was what it would be like to stuff garlic into a dead body. Seriously. How wrong is that?

Pitting Bateman against Hannibal, I’d say Bateman wins hands down. It’s not even a fair match, if you ask me.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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50 Responses

  1. Sorry – can’t even read your review. I tried to read this years ago but gave up, permanently scarred, I think. The violence is too vile for me.

    • I understand. I was okay for a lot of it but at one point I ready to give up. I plowed through but those images will remain in my mind forever.

  2. I read this in the early ’90s and remember being absolutely horrified. You’ve captured it nicely here. Don’t think I’ll read it again.

    • I think I have a high tolerance for violence and twisted stuff. I got through most of it without batting an eye and actually kept wondering why others had such issues with it, but this was a case where my cup overflowed because when I hit my max, I hit it hard. I read this one primarily at work, at lunch so you can imagine how my lunches went once I hit that point.

  3. I read this about decade ago and remember thinking – Wow! I thought the writing was great, and like you I found Bateman to be charming and funny – of course, he was also a psychotic killer and well, that tended to override the charming bit. I don’t remember being horrified by what I read, but I do remember wondering where Ellis got the ideas for Bateman’s actions – made me wonder how psycho he possibly was. As for the film, I thought it was actually pretty good and Bale definitely became Bateman. By the by, that is so weird about that Bateman guy following you guys on twitter – talk about creepy.

    • So you saw the move? How did they handle the violence? It was unrated when it first came out. It’s disturbing to admit but I “got” Bateman. I understood him and where he was coming from even though I didn’t agree with what he did to people or how he handled his particular obsession. One of the other bloggers said that Ellis considered this his most auto-biographical novel. That scared the hell out of me! I like to think he meant the drug use and OCD stuff, not the other stuff.

  4. I was curious and watched the trailer on YouTube. Even the ad is disturbing– but I had also been told about a famous “business card” scene in which everyone compares the minute, almost indecipherable, differences between font, card stock, stock hue, etc. of their business cards. It’s quite tense and odd. If a scene as benign as that can pack a punch, I can only imagine what the rest must be like.

    You know, when you talk about liking Bateman, and his charm, I think of Dexter. I’ve read the first two books and, as violent as they are, his inner monologue is so weird and strangely humourous, I grew to like him as well. I know their motivations are very different, but I wonder what it means when we allow ourselves to be charmed by these characters. Makes me think…

    • I almost mentioned Dexter based on the little I knew about him. That card scene was hysterical. In between the horror, there were moments like the card scene to bring it all back to home base. Plus, you never knew when Bateman was going to snap. One of my fave quotes from the book: Waiter: Would you like to hear today’s specials? Patrick Bateman: Not if you want to keep your spleen. I think that’s funny! LOL.

  5. I love Dexter…but his kills are essentially the same process over and over…and the people he kills deserve it. As gruesome as it is sometimes, you’re never afraid he’s going to come get you…unless you’re doing something you ought not to be doing in the first place.

    I couldn’t make it through It so I feel sure American Psycho is not for me :(

    • Yeah, AP is different. He kills out of anger but he also kills out of boredom and usually his victims are of a lower class than him. People that will not be missed, that kind of thing. The animal cruelty was a bit much too. I had a hard time with that than the stuff he did to humans.

  6. Sounds like something I have to read now that I’ve already read Hannibal’s books.

    • All I can say is that Ellis must hate women.

      • I agree. He might deny it, but there’s gotta be some hate driving his writing.

        There are some clips from the movie on youtube. The only one I watched was the scene where he dumps his girlfriend. It was remarkably like the book and Bateman was freaky enough in that scene. I’m too scared to hunt down any other clips.

        • I’ve watched a lot of the clips and they all hint at the horror, but everyone who has seen the movie said it’s tame. TAME!

  7. NOnonononono – nope. Ok, so I keep seeing people’s posts, and I thought I had read this…but I don’t remember all the scenes you discuss. Maybe I blocked it out? Maybe I didn’t finish it? It was way before my blogging days, so I genuinely don’t remember. I must say I’m grateful. I’ve just held a feeling of deep horror about this book, and I’ve equated it with the author as well. Ick.

    • I read Less Than Zero and it had the grittiness and nastiness but not violence like this one. You must not have read it because I think these images would be hard to block out once you’ve witnessed them on paper. Everyone said the writing was great. I think we all agreed on that. It did make me wonder about Ellis though.

  8. I agree that this was an amazingly disturbing book, and the movie was pretty bad as well, although much tamer. I am not sure that I will ever read another book by this author, but having read this one, I can say that Easton Ellis has either an incredible imagination, or a really sick and twisted mind.

    • Ellis admitted that the book is partly auto-biographical. I was like, “Which part??” I hope he’s just a snazzy dresser.

  9. Between your review and Trisha’s, I definitely don’t think this is the book for me. The constant going on about clothes and stuff would bore me, I’m sure, but the gruesome stuff would really bother me! I want to say, though that I did see the movie. I don’t remember a whole lot about it but I don’t think I was a big fan. And yes that guy following you is super creepy!! :(

  10. I read your review and I think I get more out of from your review than I would want to read from the book. I abandoned the book because it seems boring on the first few pages. Thanks for providing some examples how horrifying it is. Your review is so entertaining but that’s quite enough, I don’t ever want to read the book! :(

    • The beginning is a bit boring until you get into the rhythm of it. I am glad the review was enough. This way you won’t be permanently scarred.

  11. I actually saw the movie if you can believe that. It sounds like they left some of the more gruesome scenes out of it. At the end of the movie, I wondered if Bateman had done all of those things or if he just dreamed of doing them.

    • I thought the same thing with the book, That he imagined it all but there is one part where he leaves a message on an answering machine and the guy acknowledges it but blows it off. Made me think it must have happened then.

  12. Because I didn’t have immediate access to this book, I wasn’t planning to read it. But now I don’t think I can resist. I just ordered it after reading your review.

  13. I’m typing this comment on my 21-inch screen iMac while wearing my Faded Glory Pajamas and Hanes all-cotton hi-cut briefs. I’m reading the book now and I’m veering between appalled and amused. The fact that these guys constantly mistake each other for someone else is a running joke that cracks me up — as is the detailed rundown of what everyone is wearing and the brand name (including the pocket squares). I’ve gotten to a few of the horrible scenes and fear the rest. It is an oddly compelling book, and I’m curious to see how it ends.

  14. This is SO not for me… hope you are not permanently scarred!

  15. There is no way I could read this one. Just that short list of heinous acts made my stomach turn.

    • It’s interesting to see how many bloggers liked it, considering the gore. It a surprising book that way. I will say I liked it, but it has scarred me.

  16. I have got to read this one, you guys are amazing, I love the detail in your review, enough to make me want to read it. I’m sad he is winning over Hannibal, he is the man.

    I remember saying I was in love with John from I am not a Serial Killer, after I felt like hmmm maybe I shouldn’t have said that, lol

    I look forward to the gruesome scenes. The garlic memory cracked me up Ti.

    • OMG I cannot wait for you to read it. Come back and chat while you are doing it. You’ll need it. I could not read this one without discussing it with other readers along the way.

  17. I may not have read evry word, but I read enough. Great review.

    Moving on, now.

    • The book I am reading now 1222 by Anne Holt is the perfect book to read after AP. It’s a mystery, a genre I almost never read on its own but it’s cozy without being cavity inducing and reminds me a lot of Agatha Christie novels.

  18. I can be kinda of a sick and twisted puppy but I’m not really sure about this book. Trisha (Ecclectic/Eccentric, who has a dark side herself I think) couldn’t even finish it. You all have me intrigued.

  19. eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek–no way! I appreciate your review and I do know how sometimes a totally messed up character can be weirdly alluring — but I am too much of a wimp to read this!! Blechblechblech! :)

  20. By the time I got to the boiling eyeballs, I was already feeling queasy.

    • I can’t even imagine my eyeballs getting burned in that manner. I mean, I think someone would pass out before they could burst. These are the types of things I pondered. Like, how can he drill through a mouth, remove all teeth and jaw and have the person still be alive?

  21. I must have been one twisted bunny when I read this in ’91 because while it did stick with me and continues to do so to this day, the graphic horror wasn’t the part that actually stuck. It was the compulsiveness and how Ellis, just like in Less Than Zero, seemed to encapsulate exactly what the people I was seeing around me. (obviously not the dastardly murdering part, the label consciousness and the being valued by those labels)

    As I remember, the movie is sort of a letdown when compared to the book. Think about it though, even with our more relaxed movie rating standards today, there is no way they could get away with a lot of that stuff and still make a profit.

    I like Bateman too, so don’t feel bad. He was a product of his times with a mixture of OCD and a severe personality disorder thrown in to keep it interesting:0

  22. Ti — you have more of an iron stomach than me to read about Bateman’s heinous acts. Was Reese Witherspoon really in the movie? Oh my

  23. Wow…wow…the book must be 10 hundred times worse than the movie and the move was horrific!

    Time for flowers, fairies and cookies…gluten free!

  24. I read this one in college (and after I’d seen the film more than once). I think it would make me cringe more now, but I do need to revisit Easton Ellis. I recall loving this one.

  25. I’d have to agree with Patty – the movie is pretty horrible but there is a bit more of the dark humor to it. And Christian Bale is just great.

  26. [...] her daughter(?!?)), so I’m tempted to count her vote for Patrick TWICE, but I won’t. Ti called American Psycho both disturbing and fascinating, and declared Bateman the winner, hands [...]

  27. [...] Heller 52. The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy 53. Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio 54. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis 55. IT (audio) by Stephen King 56. The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye [...]

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