Tuesday, January 29, 2008
With Lunar Park author Bret Easton Ellis comes to terms with his father and being one in a convoluted memoir slash ghost story. The novel is unconventional to say the least, not a hybrid, but a mixed convention utilizing well traveled themes and parts of the author’s life to create fiction. Lunar Park blurs those lines, fusing genres around a narrator hard to like or even trust.
Ellis quickly found fame in his early twenties with the success of Less Than Zero, a wandering novel about debauchery amongst wealthy Los Angeles youth of the early eighties he knew up close. Ellis was lauded in the media for a lifestyle he lived and helped create, partying with young celebrities and garnering more attention than contemporaries such as Jay McInerney. It would be American Psycho that solidified the author’s notoriety, bringing riches and vilification at the same time. “It was the year of being hated,” he writes. That novel’s reputation and its subject matter would also help propel Lunar Park.
In the book’s first thirty pages Ellis is seemingly writing an unabashed memoir, reveling in his success, drugs, partying in the eighties, men and women slept with and the ridiculous amount of attention he received. Somehow lasting well into the nineties, the fame and “wistful attitude” towards excess crumbled during a book tour for his last novel. “I was radiating the numb, burned out cool so popular during that moment in the culture…I was winning at a game in which there were no winners,” he admits.
Ellis decides to clean up, go straight, and reconnects with a welcoming old girlfriend who was always endeared to him. With her he has a son but decidedly no contact with. He quickly settles down with his new family in a wealthy slice of suburbia, a world of children on antidepressants, nannies, parents trick or treating by SUV, obscenely sensitive teachers and the parents who see their kids as ornaments. It rings familiar. The children of Less Than Zero have become their parents to a degree. Ellis finds it all so boring compared to his old life and falls back to familiar patterns, even having an affair with a college student where he teaches once a week.
Then it becomes dicey. Young boys in the area go missing, a student ends up murdered, e-mails concerning Ellis deceased father; a stalker named Patrick Bateman and continued familial tension. As in American Psycho, the narrator’s legitimacy is questionable but trustful enough to go along for the ride. The peculiarity of Lunar Park is that it’s filled with references to Ellis’ previous novels and characters, borrowing much from his own mythology. Patrick Bateman and the detective are there. ‘Disappear Here’ is back from Zero. It works as an ever growing storm that will be familiar to readers of The Shining and The Dark Half. At its heart Lunar Park is a personal ghost story rather than a literal one, although Ellis does have the family house fumigated for believing that it’s haunted. It’s straight out of Poltergeist.
Still, there’s more at work here, culminating in the relationship with his son, “Daddy, I’m scared” the young boy says. “Get used to it. It never leaves,” Ellis replies with brutal honesty and frailty. It’s there that he finally binds with the boy. And there’s dealing with the memory of his father, the fact that he can never get away from him. He writes, “We learned from our father’s behavior, that the world lacked coherence and that within this chaos we were doomed to failure, and this realization clouded our every ambition.”
Ellis has maintained that American Psycho was about his old man, the book an exorcism and explanation. The novel has followed him just as the memory of his father and Ellis’ relationship with his son brings this to fruition. Lunar Park also feels like an exorcism and the period after a meltdown. It’s not about redemption but accepting trauma and moving forward. Ellis’ loss seems less like the loss of someone but the loss of his own youth, his innocence and the years of pain dressed in pharmaceutical band-aids.
What’s interesting is Ellis’ rule breaking and Dutch-like approach to writing about his life and inability to deal with personal pain. Lunar Park is the first day of a new life, a metaphor for a new Ellis, where he resides in 2005. The novel’s dénouement twists and turns much in the way Jacob’s Ladder keeps you wondering.
Ellis’ writing has changed greatly from the sparseness of Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction. At the time Ellis was praised more for subject matter and style than the actual writing. In the early eighties Ellis paved the way for writers such as Chuck Palahniuk and eerily vacant characters. He still loves the details and is darkly sarcastic. There’s always something sinister in the way Ellis writes and with Lunar Park he’s provided enough to interest fans and its intriguing enough for those only partially aware of his work.