Skip to main content

Murderous Madmen

Finished American Psycho yesterday, and am more terrified than ever to go down to our hole-in-the-wall basement laundry room with the eerie lockers that I am convinced contain bodies and flies and bones and chain saws. American Psycho is a horrifying novel, not only because of the gruesome, explicit, senseless actions of the psychopathic Patrick Bateman, but because of the meticulously artificial approach to life – the Evian bottles, the restaurant reservations, the manicures for men, the fake tans, Rolexes, the conversations about cummerbunds and waistcoats and cocaine and “hardbodies” etc.



I can not read it again, but I could not put it down. I think that Bret Easton Ellis’s portrayal of Western decadence and societal disintegration is pitch perfect, and there are moments that Patrick breaks through his materialistic psychobabble to confront his painfully pampered and heartless way of life, the human disconnect which enables him to sever all bonds with humanity, and these are moving and genuine and make Ellis’s method masterful.

I’m not sure it matters to the reader whether the horrendous crimes are real or Bateman is hallucinating and insane – both are frightening. The amount of slips and confessions – accidental and intentional – that Bateman makes but people mistake, mishear, and shake off nervously, makes the novel extremely ironic. So, at last I have had my introduction to transgressive fiction. Bukowski seems like a harmless ferret compared to Ellis. But, on the other hand, I don’t think American Psycho is autobiographical. Oh man, I hope not.

In other news of more bloody exploits, Kristin and I saw Othello at the Intiman last night. It was a cast from New York with Sean Patrick Thomas (of Save the Last Dance fame) as the Moor of Venice. The play launched straight into Rodrigo’s argument with the villainous Iago, and they were both so immediately heated that Kristin and I wondered if they were speaking Venetian. Fortunately, the dialogue slowed and clarified and we were able to understand.

Othello is a fantastic play to see, as my Folger Pocket edition says, because instead of Shakespeare toying with micro-plots and several crises at once, there is one narrative arc in this play and it thuds steadily on towards the final scene on Desdemona’s bed. Thomas did well as Othello, though infinitely better when he was raging than when he was happy. I saw Othello once before at the Globe in London, and it is hard to best that. At the Intiman I was a spectator, at the Globe I was a participant, and the fellow playgoers in the audience wept out loud (which I had always thought was hyperbolic when others told stories of people wailing in theatres, but I saw it happen). I did like John Campion’s Iago – raspy and gruff and loud and nearly always shouting. His manner of overacting made me feel like I was encountering a foreign man in a foreign port, not a smooth, honey-tonged Shakespearean actor. His portrayal was immediate and lustful, and there was no misunderstanding his intent by tripping over the Elizabethan syntax.



Additionally, Othello has some great lines, some of which I intend to pull out at dinner parties – things like “I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking” (Cassio).

Comments

Erin said…
I have a hard time considering myself a true book lover after reading your blog. Bravo!

Popular posts from this blog

The Private Life of the Diary

I’ve kept a diary since I was twelve. While I composed nearly illegible autobiographical scratchings in my first years of primary school at my teachers’ request, it wasn’t until I was on the brink of becoming a teenager that I felt I needed a more permanent arrangement. I suspect it had to do with reading The Diary of Anne Frank. My diary’s function has changed over the years – it once had a name (having discovered that Zoe was the Greek word for life, I thought my choice extremely clever), and I used to like my diaries in a variety of shapes and sizes, spangled with glitter, ruled with wide lines, shackled with locks and keys. For at least eight years my diary was the space in which to vent my feelings, and offered some form of therapeutic comfort. This meant it was largely about boys and is, as a result, very tedious to reread. But while the function of my journal has changed, each volume has been a solution to the manic desire to scribble. As I discovered reading Anne Frank, each e…

The Short Story Season I

The New Yorker Fiction podcast, which I’ve now gobbled up in its entirety, has recently been a lifeline while I’ve been travelling from house to house, city to city. It’s been responsible for kick-starting my renewed interest in the short story – more to come – and for introducing me to writers I’ve long known by name but never read: like Elizabeth Taylor.

Paul Theroux read Taylor’s ‘The Letter Writers’ this past January for the podcast and the story remains one of her best, alongside (and forgive the list) stories such as ‘Taking Mother Out’, ‘Swan-Moving’, ‘A Sad Garden’, ‘The Ambush’, ‘The True Primitive’, ‘The Little Girl’, ‘Hare Park’, ‘The Prerogative of Love’, and ‘The Thames Spread Out’. Travelling with the hefty paperback on planes, trains, and automobiles, I feel I’ve dragged round my little plot of England to keep me company.

(A quick note on editions: an NYRB edition of her stories has just been published but it is a selection, rather than Virago’s Complete Stories. Forgo t…

Blast-beruffled plumes

I’ve returned to Minnesota to find it transformed into a Brueghel painting.



Our hunters are gone north or even south, wherever there are more deer. This has been a bad year for deer, threatened by the cold of last year’s polar vortex and the high population of coyotes, which now carry a bounty on their heads.

So, while it’s still autumn in England (I’ve been assured), winter has come. The nights are long, the wreaths are out. I’ve been reading restlessly – Robert Walser and GB Shaw. But some nights, Thomas Hardy feels just right for November melancholia. Here’s ‘A Darkling Thrush’:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
Th…