Beatrice Reviews “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates

“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates
★★★★★

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In the hopeful 1950s, Frank and April Wheeler appear to be a model American couple: bright, beautiful, talented, with two young children and a starter home in the suburbs. Perhaps they married too young and started a family too early. Maybe Frank’s job is dull. And April never saw herself as a housewife. Yet they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. But now that certainty is now about to crumble. With heartbreaking compassion and remorseless clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April mortgage their spiritual birthright, betraying not only each other, but their best selves. 


It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity

What. A. Novel.

Revolutionary Road had been on my to-read list for the longest time but I had repeatedly put it off, hearing from friends and acquaintances that the subject matter was ‘dreary and depressing’. Not that I have anything against heart-wrenching novels but in my mind, the prospect of reading about a failing marriage for a couple who deluded themselves into chasing the grand illusion of the ‘American Dream’ could wait.

And if you’re putting it off too: stop. Wait no longer. Grab your copy of Richard Yates’ brilliant masterpiece and devour it. Afterward, watch the feature movie starring none other than the marvellous Leonardo DiCaprio and captivating Kate Winslet. That’s what I did and boy, was that an emotional ride.

You’re painfully alive in a drugged and dying culture.

April and Frank Wheeler are the textbook definition of that adventurous, explorative couple that blindly believe they are better than the rest of the world; a world confined to a dull existence that goes hand in hand with conformity in suburban America. Or at least, they try to be.

Yates’ does a fine job of examining the 1950s as a time driven by conformity in exchange for the promise of economic and social security. The writing is, no doubt, wonderful. I found myself turning the page as each line connected effortlessly to the next, painting vivid pictures in my head as if I, too, were in the same race for meaning and beauty out of life as the characters are.

However, that’s where the satirical elements come in. I couldn’t help but laugh and snort derisively through April and Frank’s (multiple) heated arguments. They say communication is key in a relationship and I couldn’t agree more but the two, as much as they talk (with Frank doing the majority of the talking) fail to grasp each other’s feelings. Communication is dead if there is no attempt made to truly understand and relate to what the other is going through or trying to express. And that’s where Frank and April fall short, amidst several other things.

The two entertain a shared illusion of superiority, characterised by their arrogance in running after the ‘American Dream’ while belittling those around them. However, they refuse to confront their own shortcomings and this is where the real tragedy lies – not in being trapped to a dull routine-based life but in their inability to face their own demons, instead choosing to find excuses for their dissatisfaction in other things.

Although I heavily disliked the characters themselves, I couldn’t help but amaze over the beautiful way in which they are etched out throughout the novel by Yates. Frank Wheeler, to put it into today’s colorful lingo, is full of bullshit. I do not wish to dwell too much into the details of his persona, nor the (slightly) favorable character development once the ghosts of his past are revealed, but Frank is poison to April as much as she is to him.

Here are two lonely souls that strive so hard to be this ‘perfect couple’ that the neighborhood views them as, but beyond the facade of their effortless partnership lies the wistfulness of having rushed and projected the promise of happiness and perfection onto the wrong person. Yates illustrates the dangers of romanticizing irrational dreams into theatrical possibilities, in place of accepting one’s limitations in a society driven by conformity.

The character spotlight extends beyond Frank and April Wheeler, with one particular favorite being John Givings. John’s character represents exactly what Frank and April strive to be but tragically fail at. He is a symbol of rebellion against the routine and conventional societal values of the 1950s. Described and no doubt viewed by the two as a “nut case” for having been wheeled off to an insane asylum, he’s probably the one person in the novel that calls things out for what they are and sees through the troubled couple.

Now you’ve said it. The hopeless emptiness. Hell, plenty of people are on to the emptiness part; out where I used to work, on the Coast, that’s all we ever talked about. We’d sit around talking about emptiness all night. Nobody ever said ‘hopeless,’ though; that’s where we’d chicken out. Because maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the emptiness, but it takes a whole hell of a lot more to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that’s when there’s nothing to do but take off. 

The novel is a must-read. There’s something for everyone to take away. We might not be living in 1950s America but there is truthto this story. Yates covers various important themes such as feminism (in specific, through the lack of choice and April’s need for liberation), the cost of freedom and the tragedy of unrealized dreams in a world where they were considered foolish. Yates shows us the bitter truth of mediocrity and the startling reality that may unfold in one’s search for perfection: a prison of one’s own making.

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Beatrice Reviews “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
★★★★★

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The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?


I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

I remember the first time I heard about this book. Chandler Bing, one of my favorite characters from FRIENDS, made a reference to it. “But we can’t live in the small apartment after we’ve lived here! Didn’t you ever read Flowers for Algernon?” To which, Joey made a not-so-witty reply (being Joey of course).

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When I started reading this novel, I did not expect the level of emotional attachment I would form with the characters to be so deep and truly, in a sense, profound. This story isn’t about some mouse on the cover (as some people believed it to be) but a tale of humanity, hope and the strength of the human spirit. This novel being classified as part of the ‘science-fiction’ genre, I did not expect it to explore the human condition in the way that it does.

I am afraid. Not of life, or death, of nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been.

Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68. Everyone sees him as a retard, a moron. No one sees him for what he truly is: a human being. In his pursuit for normalcy and social acceptance, Charlie is admitted into an experiment designed to increase his intelligence to a nearly ‘super-human’ level. Of course, such endeavors come at a price. With self-actualization comes the bitter truth that the sheltered life he leads is not what it seems.

Now I understand that one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.

The book examines a number of things and ultimately raises the philosophical question of the meaning of life. Everything you think you know is put under the lens. In the process of examining several themes such as mental disabilities, kindness, intelligence and human nature (and how often those three things overlap), Flowers for Algernon begs the question of what it means to be human. Should our self-worth be measured through our IQ, or through the capacity we have for love?

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes – how such people think nothing of abusing a man with low intelligence.

I do not wish to prattle on about my love for this novella too much but I sincerely urge each of you to go read it. Flowers for Algernon is a godsend for those of us who have lost our appreciation for the simpler things in life.

The human civilization continues to seek ways to expand its’ intelligence and in turn, dominance over this world. In this journey, we have to make sacrifices to achieve such greatness but at what cost? At what point in our search for fulfillment will we have lost too much of our essence? At what point will we think to stop, breathe and reconsider what it means to be human?

Beatrice Reviews “Animal Farm” by George Orwell

“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
★★★★★

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible. 


In the fight for freedom, it’s ironic how often the very rules that were meant to protect and preserve, evolve into weapons of mass control and corruption. Time and time again, history has repeated itself and shown us that in the face of tyrannical governments and fascist leaders, the human spirit grows resilient and breaks free from the chains designed to hold it back. And yet, misplaced confidence in figures of hope that reveal their true colors when it’s far too late, lands us back to exactly where we didn’t want to be: part of a broken and degrading system.

Is it not crystal clear, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings?

Animal Farm explores this through the allegory of a group of wrongly exploited and overworked animals that join forces to rebel together for equal rights. The parallels George Orwell drives is pretty evident: Old Major, the wise idealistic old pig who passes on a legacy before his ill-timed death is none other than Karl Marx (The Communist Manifesto, anyone?). Snowball and Napoleon, the two pigs that jointly take on the responsibility of leading the farm post-rebellion, though short-lived in their partnership, are Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin respectively.

However, I do not want to contain myself to this most renowned interpretation of the novella. Animal Farm is a masterpiece because, although Orwell may have intended it to be a satirical criticism of Soviet Russia, it is timeless in the morals it expresses, especially considering the state of modern day governance – both in political and economic environments.

The rebellion against humanity and the fall of Mr. Jones is similar to the initial uprisings various nations have taken against their authoritarian leaders. What follows the sweet but short victory of overthrowing a corrupt government is the true test of these nations. Without proper governance, resources and aid from political allies, most fall apart and give way to tyranny, violence and suffering once again.

I speak with reference to a post-Gaddafi Libya, its citizens helpless and torn apart by the second civil war. Similarly, the war raging through Syria has led to countless lives of innocent children and civilians being misplaced, lost and with tragedy thrust upon them, hope is but a feeble dream. Most recently, the unrest and massacres taking place in Sudan has horrified the world. Following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir in a military coup, the country has descended to absolute chaos. The nation’s citizens demanded a three year transition period to recover and regroup to free themselves completely from the evil roots of the previous regime. This was cut short by the military leaders who scrapped these agreements, cutting down the time to nine months. This is not enough.

If she could have spoken her thoughts; it would have been to say that this was not what they had aimed at when they had set themselves years ago to work for the overthrow of the human race. These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them to rebellion. 

Animal Farm does a brilliant job of bringing these issues to the light in an allegorical manner which makes it easier for us to comprehend, but not necessarily easier to digest. The rampant abuse of power, manipulation of the media, literal rewrite of societal rules and history to brainwash and control the lower classes and intellectually inferior is beautifully broken down through the novella. Every individual drives a purpose that forms an integral part of this revolution; whether it be as leaders of the movement, as determined and hardworking citizens, as influencers and drivers of political propaganda or as the entitled, risk-averse bourgeoise.

This vicious cycle of war and suffering will not end for as long as we fail to learn from our past errors. It is in our very nature to forget what history has taught us but it is simply not enough to sit on the sidelines and pass comments on political crises faced by our brethren nations from the comforts of our plush sofas and sheltered homes.

It is for this reason that I can wholeheartedly proclaim that this piece of art has found a spot in my heart. Literature has a wondrous way of inspiring individuals, rousing their determination and will to fight for the greater good. Perhaps, that is why countries like China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam (amongst others) have banned Animal Farm. They wouldn’t want anyone getting ideas, now would they?

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

Although Orwell intended for this to be a criticism of Stalinist communism, there are several layers of meaning woven through his prose which can be applied even today.

This book will remain timeless, for as long as we allow ourselves to read it and still wonder, “how do we change?

Beatrice Reviews “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris
☆☆

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One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.


I hate to be that person, who reads a book of hope and love set during one of the darkest times of history, who goes, “meh, I’ll give it a 2.5/3 star rating”. A love story set during the Holocaust – that’s exactly what we need to remind us that love can trump all and prevail, even in the darkest of times. But, in this case, I just could not find myself consumed by the novel. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the true story of the two individuals (Lale and Gita) on who this book is based on. It’s the execution that I have a problem with.

Let me explain. It all boils down to one thing really: bad writing.

It isn’t great. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good either. It’s that awkward attempt at trying to do justice to a true story but failing to tick all the boxes, resulting in a novel that’s both here and there.

I love dialogue but when there’s too much of it, it creates a block in the reading experience. The simple rule of ‘show, don’t tell’ can also be applied to leveraging dialogue to keep the story moving forward. With the lack of prose, much of the story is stifled and contained to the interactions and conversations between the characters without exploring the spectrum of their emotions. It gives away too much of the story, in a way that leveraging descriptive prose and imagery [especially of the setting i.e. the Auschwitz concentration camp] would have done better.

Secondly, the pacing. I didn’t feel the urge to frantically turn from one page to the next, anxiously waiting to discover what befalls the characters next. Again, the use of so much dialogue could factor in here but moreso, the actual progression of the novel. There was no ‘rising action’ or tension that drew me in as a reader. That being said, I in no way am commenting on the true events or the nature of the subject matter in itself, merely on the writing style.

It was very choppy – with quick changes in the scenery, abrupt flashbacks that acted as an attempt to provide more depth to the characters but fell flat.

Speaking of which, the character development was disappointing. I finished the book, still feeling a disconnect to Lale and Gita whose story, though beautiful, just didn’t touch me in the right way. And this is coming from someone who gets sad at the idea of a bee stinging me and dying.

Lale is a charming young man that manages to slip in and out of tricky situations, literally translating to do-or-die scenarios. Fate leads him to Gita and the entire story has us believing that they were destined to be together. The storytelling, in itself, however has much left to be desired. The sense of detachment I felt from the book afterward was not what I’d expected to take away from the read.

That being said, the book acts as a testament to a true account of love and survival in one of the most harrowing periods of history. The world needs stories like this to be shared, people whose love has withstood the trials of time and reality to inspire those who feel there is less beauty in this world worth living for.

I would recommend this book to those of you who’d like to experience that on some level. Maybe this book didn’t touch me on a sentimental scale but you might feel differently.

Here’s to hoping you do.

 

Beatrice Reviews “Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe” by Melissa de la Cruz

“Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe” by Melissa de la Cruz

★☆☆☆☆

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Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, from New York Times bestselling author, Melissa de la Cruz, is a sweet, sexy and hilarious gender-swapping, genre-satisfying re-telling, set in contemporary America and featuring one snooty Miss Darcy.


Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe? More like Pride and Prejudice and (a Complete and Total) Injustice.

My habit of starting a book and not being able to put it down till I get to the very last word has nearly always proven a blessing. I can never leave a book unfinished. It’s practically a cardinal sin to me. But the more I read this novel, the more I felt an overwhelming necessity to chuck these principles.

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I cannot begin to comprehend what the author was trying to achieve with this book. Whether or not you’ve read the original Jane Austen masterpiece, this book was just a complete and utter mess. Sure, gender-swapping the roles was an interesting move and the tributes to the original characters and setting by retaining some of the names was evident but in no way redeeming of the utter displeasure the book brought me.

I see not a single way in which this story is worth being branded as a ‘re-telling’ at all. It’s a shame because the idea had a lot of potential and with the right execution, could have actually turned out worlds better than the disappointment it ended up being.

I’m not asking for re-tellings of classic novels to be spot-on. In fact, the more innovative the spark they bring in, the more fun they are. The entire purpose of a re-telling is to have a throwback to the magic of the original while still standing on its own as a memorable read. But nothing – and I truly mean nothing – was worth this re-hash.

The characters were total dillholes. Darcy (a female in this rendition) is a successful, uber-rich hedge fund manager making it big on her own having cut off ties from her family and pursuing a career on Wall Street. I am totally in for ambitious, career-powered women but oh-my-Austen-stars, her character is intolerable.  She certainly did not act, in any way, with the maturity you would expect from a self-made woman. Instead, we see the unravelings of an utterly petty, totally awkward, not to mention, very cringeworthy character.

(Also, author – in this day and age, I doubt a 29 year old single American woman would face as much pressure to get married as Darcy did in the book. It isn’t 1813, anymore.)

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And don’t even get me started on Luke Bennet. The character progression, if I can even call it that, was a wreck and I fail to understand what even happened there. No, really. I’m not even going to bother expanding on this point because it isn’t worth it.

One of my favorite things about the original is the beauty of the writing style. Jane Austen weaves stardust into her words, bringing to life a story for the ages about people that are not only flawed and human, but relatable.

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Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail says it right – the language is pretty flipping amazing. Of course, classics carry a charm that no modern-day rendition could capture in terms of writing style but by the Gods of Literature, at least try to make it readable.

I doubt this book was run by an editor. I spotted quite a few and very small editing mistakes – both in terms of grammar and actual plot loopholes. I’ve read fanfiction by kids that possessed a certain style in their storytelling, that although worked off the ideas of established novels, still made it their own. I just could not bring myself to be okay with the writing style the author employed here. To quote Chandler Bing, it was ‘a big dull, dud’.

This book is the exact example of one of the biggest reasons to stick to the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule when writing. Endless and boring dialogue consumed most of the pages with the characters verbally explaining their back-stories for the reader to hear. Brand names are dropped here and there to have us learn the wealthy lifestyle Darcy leads in New York. Plot arcs are forced down the readers throats simply to have there be this weak connection to the original Pride and Prejudice. It was like the writer was trying to prove a point on an English-Lit paper she had to turn in.

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I’ve never, ever written a review as scathing as this one but that’s also because I never read a book so bad as this. Maybe the strong reaction roots from my undying love for the original work of art but honestly, I’m saddened because this was such a waste.

If you’re going to re-write a legend, please don’t half-ass it and pleaseGodplease, do not think you’ll get away with comparing it to the original if you do. Just – no. Now, excuse me while I step away to go read a Jane Austen original.

I’m in desperate need of some literary healing.

Beatrice Reviews “Stardust” by Neil Gaiman

“Stardust” by Neil Gaiman

★★★★

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Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining..


My first read off my 2k18 Christmas Reading List was Stardust by Neil Gaiman. This also happens to be my very first Neil Gaiman book and oh my dear stars, I loved it. Granted, I know I’m the exact opposite of a harsh critic given my history of dashing out high ratings but believe me when I say, you’re in for a truly magical time with this book in your hands.

Stardust is undeniably a fairytale, yet goes beyond a conventional telling of magic and adventure. The tale follows half human, half faerie but every bit a boy in the prime of his youth as he makes a blind promise that sets him off on a journey that inevitably changes his life forever. Hailing from Wall, a village situated near the boundary between the world of mortals and Faerie, Tristran embarks upon an adventure into the world of magic and miracles, vowing to locate and safely return with the fallen star he spotted descend from the sky. Little does he know that he is not the only one in pursuit of the star.

Gaiman’s writing transcends the book from what it could have been – just another fairytale with witches, faerie-folk and whimsical characters – to an enchanting quest layered with multiple themes and allegories that resonate with the reader long after the end of the story.

There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.

No doubt that Stardust is a romance (a slightly surprising discovery that tickled my fancies) but the love story interweaved into this book is just one element of the beauty it has to offer.

But through Stardust, we see the transformation and self-discovery of a naive boy, viewing the world as a quest ready to complete, into a man that acknowledges and accepts the challenges and twists that come along his path of fulfilling his Heart’s Desire.

 “The terms of my servitude are fulfilled, and now you and I are done with each other.”

In our world, the word ‘promise’ does not carry as much a weight as it should. But in the world of Stardust, the breaking of a vow is considered sacrilege. Whether it be between a young boy and a star, a family of brothers trying to (actually) kill each other two wily witches – one’s word means something. And sometimes with it comes the sacrifice of one’s freedom.

The wind blew from Faerie and the East, and Tristran Thorn suddenly found inside himself a certain amount of courage he had not suspected that he had possessed.

Brave or stupid? That’s a question I found myself asking about our protagonist, Tristran a number of times throughout his journey. Either way, Tristran possessed courage, a trait of his that is emphasized throughout the book, as he’s made up his mind to see his pursuit through to the end, even if the results may not be what he expected. ‘Courage’ as a theme is often presented in fairytales, sometimes in utterly outlandish manners, but in Stardust, it’s well-written and relatable. Because courage isn’t always about running headfirst into the fire. It’s also about knowing when to step back and let things go.

Stardust is like that old friend you meet up with on rare occasions and yet things are comfortable and familiar. Gaiman’s writing prompts a feeling of easiness and despite its magical, out-of-the-world elements is relatable with parts of our life that we may have not seen coming.

The characters are lovely and it is a joy to witness Tristran’s growth from a love-sick boy to a man of good values. I am not a big fan of the whole ‘damsel-in-distress’ trope and so I count my stars (see what I did there?) that there was none of that nonsense here. In place of sappy dialogues, Gaiman uses witty banter and good humor. The only slight problem I had with the book was the pacing – I found it a bit slow and laggy at parts, but it didn’t detract so much from the reading.

All  in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Stardust. Like an ancient fable passed down from generation to generation, the book is a collection of the best elements of a fairytale one could ask for – a beautiful love story and epic adventure with dashes of darkness and truth. While we may not be able to visit the world of Faerie, Neil Gaiman does a fantastic job of showing us that magic does exist in every nook and cranny of our world and all we have to do to see it is simply believe.

(Now, excuse me while I step away to make this a double-feature of fictional enjoyment and Netflix the movie!)

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Gotta say, the cast sure looks promising!

Beatrice Reviews “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis

“American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis

★★

 

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.

 

 *NOTE: The title of this blog post should really be “Beatrice Critically Analyses ‘American Psycho'” because I feel so dang passionate about this novel that a mere review will not suffice. Having said that, this will consist of some spoilers but I’m assuming most of you have already seen the popular film adaptation considering how long it’s been since it’s release!*

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. 
 
And now – to start off with my review/profound-thoughts-and-analysis-of-this-amazing-book.
 
 
 
Bret Easton Ellis is a genius. Granted I haven’t read his other novels to constructively critique his writing, I stand by my opinion that this novel delivers perfectly the message(s) that it was meant to: the artificial and narcissistic world of the 1980s’, deemed as the yuppie era. The characters are obsessed with branded clothing, elite dining and most of all: their own greed. There are several rants where the protagonist goes into excessive detail of describing what he’s wearing, what products he uses and his daily routine – which, honestly, bored me to read but I could see why the writer employed such a technique. 
 

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.

He does this, of course, by killing people. His co-workers, and fellow ‘yuppies’ that he’s utterly disgusted with, a lot of women, the homeless, gay, and even a child at one point. I was disgusted by the extents he goes to to make himself try and feel something but in the end he is nothing more than a sick, troubled killer. Nevertheless, the writing is done so brilliantly that it induced me to feel pity for this man who acknowledges he is nothing more than plastic in a mass of faceless people.

 

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.

Is money really worth it? Must one sacrifice their humanity to experience the pleasures of material gain? Is it necessary to conform and be a mere cog in the corporate wheel to feel ‘worthy’?
How much is too much?