American Psycho: Maybe Not The Book You Think It Is

(note: though I include no part of the explicit violent and sexual sections of the book, some of the quotes from the book do contain language that will be very offensive to some)

A two decade old novel might seem appropriate now, of haves in glass towers and have nots protesting in the streets, a book which is supposedly either a literal story of an investment banker who is a serial killer, or an investment banker who only imagines that he kills a series of men and women, his murder spree a “metaphor” for his profession’s indifference to larger society and the damage he does to it. Curious about whether this book would shed light on the turmoil now, I found a third theme – the book is a cryptomorph, its subject neither mass murder, or a metaphor for the financial world, but about being gay and closeted during the first years of the AIDS outbreak. This is not a case of a symbolic undercurrent; almost all the male characters, including Patrick Bateman and Timothy Price are gay closeted men, with that aspect of their lives, off-stage and unspoken directly of, but most certainly there.

Though almost all the men are gay, they all try to hide their orientation from others. Many of the women are paid by the men to be their beards; the coveted Fisher account is obtained through blackmail over a character’s sexual orientation. This is also why they try so very hard to appear as manly as possible, and do the things that heterosexual men are supposed to do. You’re supposed to talk about women as objects. Listen to Genesis and Huey Lewis. Call gay men faggots. If they want to really feel manly, they fantasize about killing men, about having sex with women and killing them afterwards – especially if they hate women for reminding them that they aren’t heterosexual at all.

A few of the cast, chiefly Price and Bateman, also have AIDS. The book’s serial killer theme is another kind of sick joke. So many popular movies and books, then and now, have made the center of their stories a deviant maniac and his grotesque achievements; the suffering and death caused by a disease that was a far more effective and massive killer go unspoken.

Psycho is a book of missing pieces and emphases on what appear to be innocuous details. They barely stick out in a book where long detailed passages are given over to clothing and work-outs, they may be intended to add to a sense of vertigo of a killer, but I believe their intent is otherwise – that they make no sense at all except to give hint to hidden lives.

That I seem to see this rather clearly is puzzling to me – as a straight man, I cannot say the book “speaks” to me, any more than any book does – only that what the writer Bret Easton Ellis has done here seems undeniable, a very thoughtful and interesting prank.

I split this very lengthy examination into four parts:

I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

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