Banned Book Club – American Psycho

The plot of Bret Easton Ellis’ book if anyone needs it: The protagonist of the book is Patrick Bateman, an intelligent and good-looking stockbroker whose major cares involve what designer clothes he has on, what women to sleep with, how to kill them, and what fancy restaurant to try next. Interspersed with this are scenes between him and the lives and drug habits of his rich yuppy friends, and a few sections where Bateman waxes philosophical about the greatness of eighties bands like Genesis.

Some of the things we wound up talking about at our meeting about this book:

Were the murders really happening, or was Bateman, in a drug-induced haze, imagining what he’d do to these people? We couldn’t come to a consensus about this.

Is he a closet gay? The only person he can’t seem to kill is Luis, who readily admits he finds Bateman attractive. It appears everybody finds Bateman attractive. He seems to have no trouble killing the women he sleeps with, and other men, little boys and dogs, but he doesn’t kill Luis. Why? I can’t remember if we came up with any good reason.

Was the lack of religion in the book significant? Some people kill because they believe God’s giving them permission to take on some of the work, for example. If he’s really killing these people, what’s Bateman’s motivation?

Can a sociopath or psychopath even believe in a god? What’s the best definition for either? Is it really possible that one out of 25 people could be sociopaths?

How much of Bateman’s buying behaviour has to do with creating an image to blend in? Does he really care about his status or does he just want to look like he cares because that’s the best way to get women? The amount of text devoted to describing clothes and accessories makes it look like a book for shopaholics. I wondered about television and movies now and how much product placement goes on and advertising in general. Obviously these fancy designers wouldn’t want to be associated with a serial killer but they do buy advertising time with the full knowledge that people crave the status that name supposedly delivers. Those who can afford it can readily get it. Most of us might just covet it all but many will go into debt to emulate a lifestyle they can’t afford.

There are several references to Les Misérables in the book. According to Wikipedia, the first U.S. tour for that musical was 1987 so it fits the time-frame of the story to mention it. We were curious if Ellis specifically referred to it with intention of using its premise as something of a nod to the economic state of New York at the time – a few ultra rich that can blow thousands on blow, and the thousands of homeless that will be completely ignored by the ultra rich. If we don’t see them, are they really there? Bateman is of the opinion that it’s their own fault they’re poor. Interestingly, while Bateman might bitch about them needing to get jobs, we never actually see him working. He was born into privilege and probably doesn’t even need his job to maintain his current lifestyle.

If there was a theme in the book, I think we decided that it had to be about comparing Bateman’s lack of care about humanity versus his rampant consumerism, and our own tendencies to put ownership of things ahead of humanity at large. We can argue what counts as “necessity” maybe, but what other crap are we blowing money on that could have been wiser spent? What is this need to accumulate doing do our cultures, our communities, our world? Are we at risk of becoming just as careless as Bateman, or have we passed that point already? Maybe we aren’t deliberately and physically killing people left, right, and center, but are our actions resulting in the death of someone anyway? Sweatshops come to mind. Unsafe mining practices in some parts of the world. What is our “need to have” doing to the have-nots? If we don’t see them, are they really there?


Edit 10:45am – Something else we’d discussed that I just remembered. Is our willingness to obey laws in society tied to our own inherent sense of conscience or morality or does it have more to do with a basic desire to avoid prison? Do all laws need to be obeyed at all times? Where’s the line if that’s not the case? Are we completely conscious of a choice being made when we act?

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