Patrick Bateman is twenty-six and works on Wall Street; he is handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent. He is also a psychopath. Taking us to a head-on collision with America’s greatest dream – and its worst nightmare – American Psycho is a bleak, bitter, black comedy about a world we all recognize but do not wish to confront.
I knew I was putting myself in for a rather…challenging read (for lack of a better word) when I decided to add this to my bookshelf. Having seen trailers and certain scenes of the movie when I was younger and again while surfing Youtube, I was surprised to realize that I hadn’t actually seen the full film. However, before watching it, I decided to read the book first – completely aware of the grotesque violence, graphic sex and other controversial themes it portrayed. Best. Decision. Ever.
I haven’t had much experience reading books in the genre of black comedy, but boy, oh boy, does this one pack a punch, figuratively and literally. If you can’t stomach violence, then you will most likely end up heaving your guts into the nearest bin while reading this. Before I actually start off on my review of this masterpiece of the blackest of comedies, here’s a tiny disclaimer:
- The protagonist of this book is a psychopathic serial killer. If you were expecting leprechauns and rainbows, you won’t be getting any. It’s right there in the title!
- The violence is explicit. I mean there’s Game of Thrones and then there’s this. I’m talking about some pretty dark stuff here: cannibalism, rape, prolonged torture, animal abuse, necrophilia. So unless you think you can cope with rather vivid imagery of a deranged man’s experiments with insanity…you should read it anyway. That’s what I did. *wink*
- Misogyny, racism and homophobia are some of the more serious issues covered in this book. Mainly cause the main character and his immediate social circle are insensitive douchebags whose jokes and conversations center around how ‘high-class’ they are. There were parts where I wanted to rip off my own arm and throw it at them for how horribly sexist/racist the characters get. But, it all serves a purpose in delivering the deeper message of the novel.
To understand what American Psycho is trying to put across, I had to push aside how utterly appalled I was by certain events in the book and try to level with the thought process of a psychopath. Patrick Bateman, the twenty-something corporate banker is an emotionless killer. He is a product of the system he’s part of, a monster born from a society that feeds off those at the bottom and fuels the greed of those on top.
“My personality is sketchy, and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago.”
He is completely aware of his own psychotic tendencies. It made me think a lot; a crazy person wouldn’t know they’re crazy, right? But Patrick admits to this several times through out the novel, directly to the reader and people around him as if in a confessional tone.
He puts on a mask every morning of being this superior, perfect person much like everyone around him does and yet on the inside…he’s the complete opposite.
I think it’s Patrick’s search for meaning, a plea to break from this trap of materialism that pushes him to do what he does. He inflicts pain on others in order to try and feel something but fails. He becomes the very image of a monster that society deems he can’t possibly be and by doing so is actually the most human of them all.
Written in the first person point of view, it’s easy for the reader to understand where exactly Patrick is coming from, that is if he/she doesn’t give up on what several people before me have called a rather ‘mundane’ narrative style. The book starts off rather…mellow – depicting Patrick’s high-end life with his posh, white-walled apartment (symbolism yay!) and shallow social circles of pompous, overly obnoxious friends. It delves into much more violent, and disturbing themes as Patrick starts to ‘lose his cool’ and breaks free, more frequently, from his facade of the prim and elite business-man.
Does this mean I like him? No. Does this make him any less despicable? No, it does not. The various and disgustingly creative ways in which he tortures and kills his victims is proof enough to show that Patrick Bateman is a repulsive human being. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t understand why he does what he does, what pushes him to do it.
The writer goes into a lot of detail in describing the murders to make the readers feel sick and completely acknowledge the kind of person Patrick really is, despite his outer mask. The smell of rotting flesh, the taste of his victims, and the struggle that they put up is elaborately illustrated. The reader, along with Patrick, will get completely immersed in the act of murder by making it as real as it possibly can be.
And yet, after every murder, he slips back into being none other than the ‘Bateman’ everyone else identifies him as. As the novel progresses, it becomes harder and harder for him to separate the line between these two identities.
I think what struck me the hardest wasn’t the disturbing acts that Patrick commits but the complete negligence that people show when he openly admits it to them. There are several instances through out the novel where Patrick lets out his true self; admitting to his colleagues, his fiance, his dry-cleaner that he is insane. Yet, they turn a blind eye – passing it off as a joke, mishearing him, and continue living in blissful ignorance. The setting plays an important role in understanding that; seeing as the story takes place in New York’s Wall Street – the central hub of narcissism.
“Everyone looks familiar, everyone looks the same.”
People are too obsessed, too taken with themselves to even pay notice to the disappearances and complete psychotic tendencies of those around them. Hell, they can’t even recognize their own friends – once again proving how ‘faceless’ money can make people become.
The whole book is just a masterfully written allegory, pointing to the consumerist culture of corporate America. Brand names, business cards, and the ability to make reservations at upscale restaurants become the yard-stick of measuring how worthy people are of being considered…well, people. The characters are incredibly homophobic, and racist and the writer makes it a point of contrasting the void between the rich and the poor through out the book.
Patrick, himself, is the embodiment of what a capitalist society can produce. His cannibalistic traits can be linked to consumerism, his work in mergers and acquisitions relating to the immense strength of corporate powerhouses to take over, and dominate others.
As a writer, the fact that this book was able to gauge a strong reaction from me, the reader, just goes to show how brilliantly the book is written. Others don’t quite appreciate the stark violence presented but it’s done to make us live the reality, or really, the absence of a meaningful reality in the lives of the rich. And just when I started getting used to, or in a sense de-sensitized to the violence the book, the writer just throws another, unimaginable act in my face, forcing me to confront just how horrible this American psycho really is. This book is another testimony to the fact that we should never judge someone by their outer appearance or what their position in society might place them to be.
Really, one second they might be like this, just seemingly in love with themselves (we all know people like that):
And the next, they might be running after you butt-naked..with a chain-saw:
However, American Psycho stays true to its comedy – I laughed a whole lot, despite wanting to stuff my head under a pillow and never come out again several times. There are recurring comedic lines, like the whole video-tape excuse that Patrick uses to get out of a situation he really doesn’t want to be in (convenient enough for him, really). It’s the way the line is delivered each time that floored me.
Like, really, Patrick? Is that what you’re going to go with?
It took me a while to get the book out of my head. I started to look at things differently and question how different my reality might be from someone else. In a sea of people, there are guaranteed to be a few Patrick Bateman’s lurking around, visibly sane but really on the edge of breaking apart. The theme of identity crisis is something I adored about this book. The feeling of waking up and staring at yourself in the mirror, wondering if the reflection looking back at you is really who you are or just a manifestation of what the world forces you to be is something I could personally relate to.
Eventually, the shock-effect of the violence fades out to an element that goes well with the dark humor of the novel. The fact that Ellis is able to mock and make a satire of the yuppie culture and, simultaneously, bring out the startling flaws of a capitalist-reigned world is what made me fall in love with the message of this book.
In the end, Patrick Bateman’s confession amounts to nothing. There is no path of salvation – he has no one to connect to, no one that will understand him and he simply doesn’t feel guilt but rather, a warped sense of his own identity that stifles him so much so that he admits the truth. The whole truth. And of course, no one acknowledges it.
I think this is what makes American Psycho the classic masterpiece of black comedy. As someone studying business and aiming to go into the field myself, I was able to understand the themes and implications of a superficial, fabricated reality such as the one presented in the novel.