Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
Oh God. This is tough.
To begin, I was 17 years old in high school in LA when Less Than Zero was published and it had a huge outsized effect on me. It was the first time I saw people I recognized portrayed on pages and it made me feel literature was not just about people in flouncy dresses and sea captains uniform or about neurotic men in their 50’s but about kids like you and me, more or less.
I’m not really in position to talk about whether LTZ was good, since it played such a role in my young imagination, but nonetheless, I suspect that it was. I think there was a true vivid imagination at work that captured a prevailing ennui with wit and a sense of dramatic tension.
Since then Ellis’ interests and mine have diverged, to say the least but so my expectations were not high for this sequel, but I still had some sense of excitement about returning to those characters of my youth.
Well, my low expectations were not nearly lowered enough. It’s as though someone were doing an imitation of early Ellis, minus every shred of wit or dramatic tension. Less Than Zero is at its best like Camus set in LA nightclubs, and it is aware of the sillyness of that proposition and has fun with that, creating some hilariously funny. Here the same detachment amongst the opulence is played entirely straight, very very very seriously. It reminds one of when the slapstick Honeymoon In Vegas was remade as Adrian Lyne’s ponderous, portentous Indecent Proposal. Everything that was implied and beneath the surface in LTZ is here made manifest and shoved in your face like a sackful of feces, the shock value elements having devoured the characters whole.
The plotting is….well, plotting has never been Ellis’ strong suit, which in his first three books he seemed aware of and constructed character-centric tales that didn’t require a whole lot of structure. Here he is working in the most plot-dependent genre, mystery, and its just not his forte, to put it mildly. Lots of long expository conversations about when did you talk to her, was that before I saw him get out of the car when I didn’t realize she knew that…
In LTZ, seeing young rich kids being self-absorbed and alienated is an expected and comical reaction to their circumstance. Seeing old rich people in Bedrooms being self-absorbed and alienated is grotesque but not in the way Ellis thinks, I think. Not in the, “It Only Looks Like the Good Life” way, but in the just yuck, get these people away from me way. Towards the end, when he breaks out the major shock stuff its almost superfluous. You don’t have to make it clear to us these people are monsters. We already know.