American Psycho is perhaps the most graphic portrayal of sexual violence that the general public has ever been exposed to. It’s horrific, almost impossible to get through, way past pornographic, deep into the realm of unspeakable sadism. So the question is, why should a book like this ever be published, ever be read, or ever be praised? Well, as I said in my recent blog post, We have to look evil in the eye. We have to know what it really is… all of it.
In my mind at least, American Psycho is a significant work of art. It feels more like a collage than anything else. It’s made of pages torn from travel brochures, old album covers, a playbill from Les Miz, a severed human ear stapled casually into place, a finger gnawed nearly to the bone glued at just the right spot with its own blood. There are several pages from GQ, others from Vogue, Zagat’s ratings of Manhattan restaurants, a human eyeball smashed against the collage so hard that it splatters and sticks.
The book starts out slowly. It’s boring. The conversations in vapid, all about clothes: what brand labels he, she, and everyone else wears. They talk about the rules of proper dress: dull, dull, dull, suggesting that these people lead lives that are devoid of any meaning or excitement. Of course, none of them actually do. These guys are all high-powered Wall Street traders, financers, and they look the part. The women are all “hard bodies,” the men are all buffed; they work out all the time. The main character, Patrick Bateman, is so handsome people keep asking if he is a model or an actor. He’s the narrator, so we start off by liking him.
But little by little Patrick suggests that he thinks about murdering people all the time, maiming them first and then doing more. I’m hoping that at worst his suggestions are more along the lines of a Fellini film where events seem real, but they are only wishes. But time goes on. He teases and then murders homeless men and women on the street; he takes hookers home and pays them a lot of money so that he can “do things to them with coat hangers.” And then it gets even worse. He invites an old girlfriend from Harvard to his apartment and nail-guns her hands to the floor so that he can torture and kill her.
That’s enough of that. I’m sure you get the point.
I guess it could be said that the author is sparing us some of the gorier details. But there is already too much carnage here. It’s like he’s holding our eyes open and forcing us to look at it all. I wonder how Patrick can murder so many well-connected people and get away with it. Though he does have his moments with the police… believe me. (On the other hand, there are more than a few suggestions that all this mayhem is no more than imaginings of a sick, sick mind.)
In any case, that’s American Psycho, a hard, unflinching look at things that are so awful that no one really wants to look at them. My point is that we should look at them; we need to. Because evil does exist in the hearts and minds of humanity, even the best of us. And we have to be aware of it, we have to look it in the eye; we have to know what it really is… so we can know of its dangers, and keep it in check.