For his fifth and most enjoyable novel, Ellis has found the perfect anti-hero: himself.
We start with an overview of his life and oeuvre. The author/narrator, a narcissistic, self-pitying drug fiend, gets a shot at redemption when movie star Jayne Dennis, an old flame, offers to marry him. The deal is that he must now connect with Robby, the son he has shunned for 11 years. The father-son relationship is the novel’s major theme and plot pivot; the 1992 death of Bret’s difficult father was traumatic. Bret jumps at the offer. How will the celebrity author handle marriage, fatherhood and life in the suburbs? He can’t hack it. He loses his desire for Jayne in his drive to seduce Aimee, a student at the local college; he quickly reverts to his cocaine and vodka habits (Brat Pack buddy Jay McInerney shows up for a druggy Halloween party); and he resents his cold, distant son. This is all as fascinating as a car wreck and is frequently very funny. Then things get weird. Terby, the mechanical bird doll owned by Sarah, Jayne’s daughter by a different father, comes to sinister life. Bret receives mysterious e-mails from the bank where his father’s ashes are deposited. Boys in the neighborhood disappear, and there is a wave of grisly murders modeled on those in American Psycho. The story of a doomed marriage blends with a satirical take on upscale suburban angst, a campy horror story about a haunted house, a Frankenstein-like case of a monster unchained and a serious rumination on the damage fathers can do to sons. Ellis stirs these elements into a steamy witches’ brew and works his way through to a marvelously elegiac ending, displaying real artistic discipline. “Every word is true,” declares Bret—but then again, a writer’s life is “a maelstrom of lying.”
Even his harshest critics may now have to acknowledge that this versatile, resourceful writer has formidable skills.