Saturday, August 07, 2010

Imperial Bedrooms, by Bret Easton Ellis

(hb; 2010: sequel to Less Than Zero)

From the inside flap:

"Clay, a successful screenwriter, has returned from New York to Los Angeles to help cast his new movie, and he's soon drifting through a long-familiar circle. Blair, his former girlfriend, is married to Trent, an influential manager who's still a bisexual philanderer, and their Beverly Hills parties attract various levels of fame, fortune and power. Then there's Clay childhood friend Julian, a recovering addict, and their old dealer, Rip, face-lifted beyond recognition and seemingly more sinister than in his notorious past.

"But Clay's own demons emerge once he meets a gorgeous young actress determined to win a role in his movie. And when his life careens completely out of control, he has no choice but to plumb the darkest recesses of his character to come to terms with his proclivity for betrayal."


Ellis uses the same structural and thematic template in Imperial Bedrooms that he used in Less Than Zero, shuffling around the scenes and power dynamics -- Clay, Blair, Rip, Julian and others have not so much aged gracefully, as become more cruel and vain, generally ruling their tiny fiefdoms with the subtlety of snuff film thugs with knives and baseball bats.

Clay, once a somewhat sympathetic character in Less Than Zero (and, again, the narrator of Imperial Bedrooms), has turned into a cold control freak sadist whose sickness is becoming evident, even to himself: near the end, his dark appetites take on Patrick Bateman-esque (American Psycho) qualities. Clay's disintegration acelerates when he gets hooked on an aspiring actress-whore, Rain Turner, who's been all over Los Angeles, in oh so many ways.

Ellis, to his credit, successfully reworks that Less Than Zero template, in terms of recalling events, themes and signs ("Disappear Here"), and even mocking the real-life results of that source novel with self-referential wit. Also, the pacing and narrative is less frenetic and strung-out, at least until near the end; Clay and his reluctant clique are older, and business (in its varying meanings) has largely replaced drugs and pop culture as a topic of conversation -- these conversations are as empty as they were in Less Than Zero, but as society has changed, so has the vocabulary of Clay and his long-ago friends. The sex, some of horribly reminiscent of Less Than Zero, has been kept intact.

What doesn't work in Imperial Bedrooms is that these characters are repellent and craven, especially Clay (which stands to reason, as the tale is told by him). I didn't feel any sympathy for anybody in the novel, making this a grit-your-teeth read, despite Ellis's otherwise excellent writing and cleverness. Thankfully, this is a short read, even shorter than its source novel, so that's another point in its favor, as is the ending, which is character-true and neatly ties up Clay's twisted tale.

Worth reading, if you don't mind reading about completely unlikeable and disturbing characters.

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