LESS THAN ZERO
Bret Easton Ellis
The over-familiar emptiness and super-decadence of L.A.--witnessed, this time around, by a very young semi-outsider. Clay is 18, home for Christmas break from college in New Hampshire. And he quickly finds himself in the swim of life such as it is in his circle: movie-industry parents, ubiquitous cocaine, Valium, MTV, bisexuality, anorexia, Mercedes cars--and a daily round of numbing, inconsequential acts. ("I don't think anyone is up yet and I notice that my mother's door is closed, probably locked. I walk outside and dive into the pool and do twenty quick laps and then get out, towel myself off dry as I walk into the kitchen. Take an orange from the refrigerator and peel it as I walk upstairs. I eat the orange before I get into the shower and realize that I don't have time for the weights. Then I go into the room and turn on MTV really loud and cut myself another line and then drive to meet my father for lunch.") After these vacant days, the nights are devoted to partying: the in-group gatherings sometimes involve the screening of snuff films; on one occasion an actual murder-mutilation occurs. So, though Clay does do some running with a crowd that is into male prostitution (to support drug-habits), he eventually backs away from all the sub-zero sleaziness. Throughout, first-novelist Ellis and narrator Clay register everything here with utter coolness: there is no inflection, no viewpoint; you're supposed to simply sponge up all the horror. Unfortunately, however, the effect is one of overkill--like a Soviet propaganda film about the murderous effects of too much wealth. And you never experience revulsion, only eventual boredom. In sum: a flat Cook's tour of kiddie-depravity in Lotusland--with a pounding beat, no zing, and only some marginal voyeur-interest for the insatiably curious.