American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Spoiler Free Review
The classic but misunderstood movie version of American Psycho does not even compare to the depravity featured on the pages of the book. One thing you must know before attempting to read this novel is that is it extremely disturbing. Yes, yes, you think you know what you’re getting into. Of course it’s full of murder, he’s a psycho! No, the disturbing thing about it is how detailed and graphic the imaginative torture scenes are. You haven’t read anything like this before.
The American Psycho book balances it’s sadistic sex and violence with an overall banality. Everyday tasks such as getting dressed and going out for drinks after work are described in the same way as murders and rapes. Minute details are given for every single task and observations are made on the molecular level.
There are many similarities between the movie and the book and both are strongly recommended. The book goes beyond the exploration of toxic masculinity to showcase the maltreatment of the mentally ill in a narcissistic society. Patrick Bateman is a sick man and not a single person tries to help, cure, or capture him.
Author Ellis dives deep into the mind of a psychopath and uses the unique voice of the book to highlight how they walk among us. Bateman’s narration fluctuates in stability just as his mind does. When he’s calm, we’re calm; when he’s frantic, we’re frantic. His descent into the darkest parts of humanity is a slow process for us to watch with no hope of him ever coming out the other side.
There will be chapters that you may consider glossing over or skipping entirely. You know when Christian Bale goes on a long monologue about Phil Collins? That’s a chapter in the book. It isn’t exactly necessary to read it word for word but these tangents are necessary to show how Bateman’s mind works and the connections he makes between his interests and motives. Ellis’ writing manages to keep it interesting and engaging even when you think it’s not going anywhere.
I can only recommend American Psycho to readers willing to read some of the most effed up stuff I’ve ever read in a book, and that’s a high bar for me. If you can stomach torture, rape, and murder of men, women, children, and animals then this book is a brilliant piece of American literature. If you found the movie hard to watch then I would strongly advise you to pass on this one, it’s far more graphic than you’d even guess.
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American Psycho Book Summary
This disturbing novel by Bret Easton Ellis opens by setting the stage. New York City in the late 80s to early 90s, there’s graffiti and trash everywhere, homeless people sleeping on every street corner. But within the confines of a limo there is one Patrick Bateman, patiently listening as his friend describes each and every way he is superior to the city of his choice.
A trademark of American Psycho is it’s long-winded descriptions. Bateman takes us through his apartment and morning routine as he carefully mansplains each and every thing he owns and why it is top of the line and super expensive. The fact that at this point his CD players and 27 inch TVs are incredibly outdated further exemplifies his futile mission to be the best of the best for all time. He describes how he takes care of his body to run it at full potential and he itemizes every thought he has for the benefit of the reader.
The beginning of the novel consistently flows with this neutral tone. Bateman observes and catalogues the clothing and accessories of everyone around him, silently judging them to himself while maintaining an outward cordiality.
When he goes out with the boys they all display their superiority as masculine, white, rich, straight men. They peacock for each other with crass jokes, business card competitions, outdrinking each other, and flexing about the women they’ve conquered. Bateman calls out one man’s infidelity but has his own affairs going on as well. They take the most joy in teasing homeless people, extending dollar bills only to pull them away and laugh as they get into their limos.
They demonstrate this “alpha” mentality but it comes across as a cattiness that would typically be used to insult how women behave with each other. Their interactions become silly and laughable when you realize they’re only talking about their designer clothes, manicures, and their own vanity. When broken down it doesn’t seem quite so manly anymore.
Slight hints on Bateman’s violent and sadistic side are sprinkled throughout the first third of the book. We only see him washing blood off his sheets or a random aside of him jokingly wanting to murder someone for bad bar service. With these hints we also notice that some characters address him by different names, the seeds of who he really is are planted.
After pages and pages of benign interactions he sleeps with a friend’s girlfriend while he’s out of town. She’s overmedicated and barely functional. They have a mid-coitus argument about the proper use of a condom before he ejaculates inside of her while she cries. Then she says she wants to go again, without a condom, even after all the fuss. American Psycho frequently mentions the fear of AIDS and STDs but the prevailing opinion is that straight guys can’t get it. Bateman and the others are, of course, invincible.
Bateman begins to show flashes of instability when he starts to casually mention past murders and violent fantasies in conversations with his cohorts. Lucky for him, they’re all far too self absorbed to notice or take it seriously.
About a third of the way into the book he kills a homeless man on the street. He walks right up to him, insults and teases him, and then cuts his eyeballs open. He stabs him repeatedly with joy before crippling the homeless man’s dog on the way back to his apartment.
This immediately transitions into a whole chapter about the band Genesis and Phil Collins. He describes the music he loves in the same way he describes his suits or his murders. These violent acts are all part of his routine.
The break in his routine occurs with a stream of consciousness chapter in which he is clearly having a severe psychotic break. He cries out for help and despite being obviously deranged not a single person notices let alone helps him. The entire book demonstrates the selfishness of others and how they helped Bateman get to where he is today. He no longer tries to hide his true self, it’s just that nobody cares.
He gets bolder in his sadism and attempts to strangle the friend who’s girlfriend he’s sleeping with. Strangely, this man mistakes this threat as affection and tells Bateman he’s been waiting for him to move. Bateman panics and runs out of the public restroom they were in, he’ll have to fight of these advances the rest of the novel.
In order to scratch this murder itch he was unable to complete he kills a pedestrian and his dog on the street. No one notices despite this being a crowded city in broad daylight. He describes clothing as he walks home covered in blood. The descriptions act as a sort of grounding technique to bring him back to reality after he murders someone.
This brings us to the graphic sex parts of the book. He hires two prostitutes and his acts with them are described in pornographic detail. After their first round it is implied that he tortures them and then lets them go with a hefty paycheck. The torture here is not described. This will lead us into a false sense of security the next time he beds someone. We think we’ll just get to enjoy the raunchy, filthy sex scene but it will turn violent and you will be turned right off. (I hope).
At about the halfway point it is finally acknowledged that he knowingly goes by other names and has multiple lives set up with different social groups. However, this is never fully explained it just deepens how outside of normality he is.
He continues with a string of murders that he does very little to hide. Once again, nobody cares.
He goes to lunch with his old college girlfriend and we see him nervous for the first time. Throughout the lunch he is unhinged and sets off about every red flag a person could raise. He reads her an extremely racist poem that he wrote (full and repeated use of the N word included). He insults her and the waitstaff, and does nothing to conceal his breakdown. She laughs it off and talks about herself before going back to his place with him.
You almost don’t feel sorry for her. It’s obvious that he’s going to harm her and she should have seen it coming. Never go home with a man who writes racist poetry! Come on lady!
But you do start to feel sympathy when he describes in great detail how he tortures her to death. He violates her in every conceivable way and it takes an excruciatingly long time for her to finally die. He takes great care to make it last and to keep her conscious to experience it.
Shortly after that incident a private detective arrives at his office to question him about one of the people he has murdered. They’ve been listed as missing and the investigator is questioning known acquaintances. Bateman is not suave at all and trips himself up in his lies throughout the whole conversation. And yet, even a professional doesn’t seem to pick up on it because he just wants to go through the motions and call it a day.
Even after knowing he’s on the radar for a murder he continues to kill everything he can get his hands on. He kills people, goes out of his way to buy and torture animals, and even kills a young child at the zoo.
He keeps escalating the acts of violence but he stops feeling anything from it. He ventures into cannibalism and necrophilia but he says that only entertains him briefly (read the book if you want the grotesque details, it’s probably worse than you imagine). He’s completely hollowed out. He self medicates with pills, alcohol, and cocaine but nothing gives him any highs or lows.
He shoots someone in public and enters a high speed police chase. The narrative briefly changes from first to second person symbolizing his final detachment from reality. He switches back to first person as he leaves a voicemail confession to one of his friends. He details his long list of crimes and is ready to accept the consequences.
But none come. His friends have all been told of the voicemail and they all think it was a joke. They laughed it off as a silly lark and never even questioned his cry for help.
He’s finally recognized as a criminal by a cab driver who saw his face on a wanted poster. Bateman thinks this is finally it but since there was no reward for his capture the cabbie simply robs him and drops him off.
In the end of the American Psycho book Bateman just kind of goes on living. There’s no consequences for his actions. There’s nothing that teaches him that any of it was wrong or even frowned upon by society. Does he keep murdering? Probably. In the end, nothing changes and nobody cares.
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American Psycho FAQ
How long is the American Psycho book?
When did American Psycho book come out?
Is American Psycho a banned book?
It sure is! Complaints against the book are numerous including that it is sadistic, anti-feminist, violent, graphically sexual (sometimes without consent), and glorifies drug use. The author has defended his work and rejects the criticism that the descriptions of violence are excessive.