Bret Easton Ellis mellows out

‘American Psycho’ and ‘Glamorama’ author’s latest book reveals his new take on life

by Jenna Ross

BCorrection: The graphic incorrectly stated the day Ellis will do a reading on campus. Ellis will read Monday.

Bret Easton Ellis’ characters dominate and outlive the novels that introduce them. “American Psycho’s” Patrick Bateman inspired fan Web sites, angered parents and starred in a feature film.

Soon even Ellis couldn’t escape. Patrick Bateman, his own character, was “haunting” him, he said in a phone interview last week.

Ellis explores authors and their ghosts with his new novel “Lunar Park.” This time around, Ellis ñ or someone quite like him who shares the same name ñ is his own main character.

Here, Ellis talks about how his sixth novel is less about social commentary and more about, well, himself.

People continue to discover and connect with your books. Why do you think that is?

I tend to write about the time we’re living in at that moment. I use a lot of topical references -band names, TV shows, whatever. By doing that, I always run the risk of being dated. I did not think, for example, that “Less than Zero” was going to be understood by anyone outside of Los Angeles. You would have to be my age and live in L.A. to connect with that book. And I get letters from kids in India, now, who weren’t even born then, who read the book and said it meant something to them. If we’re talking about that book in particular, I guess somehow I captured this feeling of youthful alienation that struck a chord. Or conversely, it’s kind of a joyride. It’s kind of an exciting book because these kids are acting so adult, and they’re doing sort of naughty things, and isn’t it all so cool how disaffected they are? But I guess there’s something larger at play that I really can’t locate. There’s some sort of universal feeling the book generates that makes it still meaningful.

Though there is satire in “Lunar Park,” is doesn’t seem to be the focus it was in your other novels.

It wasn’t. The impetus to write this book was not satirical. It was not based in anger, whereas “American Psycho” was. “Less Than Zero” was. “Glamorama” certainly was. I was at most furious at the point that I was writing that book. And Victor Ward and Patrick Bateman and Clay and all the rest of the characters were summations of my anger. I didn’t feel that way about “Lunar Park.” “Lunar Park” ended up being a novel I wanted to write about my dad, about memories of growing up in suburban Los Angeles, about my parents’ strained marriage. And I wanted to write a supernatural thriller. There’s no satirical nature to that. I didn’t want to satirize a supernatural thriller. I didn’t want to satirize Stephen King. The satire that’s there – I think that’s just my eye. It was not the motivating force, while in my previous work it was.

What were you angry about when writing “Glamorama”?

I was angry at the idea of celebrity culture sucking up everything. Celebrity culture ended up defining everything, from the way we view the rest of the world, from the way we view politics. And I thought that was a really scary thing. It upset me. The idolization of celebrity and beauty in our culture was a real weakness. People were drowning.

But isn’t that all still going on? Why are you less angry now?

I think you get older. You get mellowed out. You’re tired. How angry can you stay? You get it. This is how the world works. Whoa. OK, I understand that now. Take a big breath. It doesn’t really interest me anymore to grab people by the shoulders and tell them, “Hey the world sucks. Look at it. Look at what’s happening to our society. Look at what we’re worshipping.” I think people know. I hope people know. And even if they don’t, I won’t be the one to tell them. Let them find out on their own.

Then what do you hope people get from your books?

Nothing. I really don’t. Believe me – people can get what they want. I hope they’re transported during the reading of it, and they’re somewhere else, and they’re getting pleasure from the book, and they’re entertained. People have gotten so many messages from all the books. And I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled that people have debates about whether Patrick Bateman did or didn’t do it in “American Psycho.” I’m thrilled with all of these really interesting and very creative theses on “Glamorama.” Who is the real Victor Ward? Everyone takes something different from the books. I don’t want to dictate it.