Friday, August 8, 2008

Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis

Let's see the last couple of books were The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks which featured incest and a horrific bus accident, Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road and the dense prose in the weighty volume of Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh. Can I be blamed for wanting to lighten things up a bit?

Unfortunately, Glamorama wasn't quite the ticket. Like Bret Easton Ellis' prior novels, it features beautiful but vacuous and vapid people who wear designer clothing, go to VIP parties and sleep with each other in a bed-hopping frenzy that makes Melrose Place look like a monastery along with an excessive amount of name-dropping of celebrities and status symbols in long lists of vogueing poses and extremely long and unpunctuated run-on sentences that are breathlessly repetitive and wearying to the reader.

Less than Zero, which is the only other Bret Easton Ellis (I keep calling him by his full name because I'm not sure whether it's appropriate to refer to him as "Easton Ellis" or just "Ellis" in the way of shortening things...) is about beautiful and emotionally empty young people in Los Angeles. I could appreciate the satirical portrayal of too much money, too much time and too little moral grounding. I saw the movie American Psycho based on his book and again it portrays young, attractive but morally empty people whose only concerns are with status symbols like getting a reservation to an exclusive restaurant, Armani suits and the perfect font and card stock for one's business cards. I can appreciate Bret Easton Ellis' (it just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) call to awake from our morally shallow and materially obsessed lives and realize that our fascination for status and popularity is ugly and useless.

But how many books with the same characters (and in some case Bret Easton Ellis actually recycles character from one book into another), the same obsessions, the same nihilistic lifestyles do we need? Glamorama is merely a continuation of the satiric rant started with Less than Zero, this time revolving around the empty life of Victor Ward, a former male model with a predilection for calling everyone "Baby" and quoting song lyrics, with no real aspirations other than looking good, hanging with the beautiful people, @#$%ing models and living his boringly hedonistic lifestyle. When Victor comes into contact with a mysterious F. Fred Palakon, it changes the course of his life:

"I stare at him, lost. "You want me to go to London and find some girl I don't even remember dating?"

"So you've understood me," Palakon says, visibly relieved. "For a moment there I was worried that nothing was registering."

Suddenly contemplative, I stare into Palakon's face. "You look like the kind of guy who eats his own scabs.," I murmur. "Did you know that? That you look like that kind of guy?"

"I've been called many things, Mr. Ward, but a scab-eater has not been among them."

"Hell, there's a first time for everything, buddy," I sigh, pushing myself away from the table, standing up. Palakon keeps staring at me, which makes me nervous and all tingly, creeps me out in a way I've never been creeped out before."

Then the story gets REALLY weird with supermodel terrorists, doppelgangers, altered identities, bombings, torture, an omnipresent film crew, a film-within-a-film crew and, inexplicably, copious amounts of confetti. I guess it's supposed to represent the tenuousness of a life based on physical appearance, the disposability of celebrity, the media (and "our") obsession with violence and the absurdity of reality TV (Victor was rejected as a cast member of The Real World FOUR times...), but I can't see I really got it the way I got Less than Zero.

The novel is divided in six parts, all of which count down (Initially I thought it was telling the story backwards like Memento, but I think it was more like a timer countdown for a bomb--or maybe the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square, which could account for all the confetti...) except for the last chapter. Some of the many references that were hip and cutting edge then (Does anyone remember Martha Plimpton or Dan Cortese?) are dated and obsolete now--which may have been exactly what Bret Easton Ellis (What is it with the three names? Two were good enough for Hemingway and Steinbeck, man!) was aiming for. It's weird and trippy and reads like an oversized issue of the National Enquirer, but ultimately for me didn't amount to much at all.

Which may have been the whole point...


  1. I can definitely see your points, and there are certainly similarities to Ellis' other books i.e. the shallow, materialistic characters. (I'll just use "Ellis" and he can complain to me if he likes.) I think what's different here is that he's attacking the issues of beauty-- and our obsession with it-- and terrorism head on, while also making the book just as "of the moment" 1990s as American Psycho was late-1980s. He intermingles these two themes by suggesting the transient nature of our bodies, how we can work night and day to make them "perfect" only to have them mangled and torn apart suddenly and without warning. Glamorama is also the most hallucinogenic and ambiguous of Ellis' work, even more so than American Psycho. I just find it totally fascinating.

  2. I completely concur with you on the "most hallucinogenic" aspect. That was part of the stumbling block for me. My other problem is that he keeps attacking/exploring the same (or extremely similar) subject matter.

    He's a very talented writer with a sharp and biting wit. I just think he needs to move on to a different subject.