Category Archives: Literary Technique

Milan Kundera on Kafka’s Horror of the Comic

Fragments from the essential The Art of the Novel.

On the horror of the comic:

When Kafka read the first chapter of The Trial to his friends, everyone laughed, including the author.

Philip Roth’s imagined film version of The Castle: Groucho Marx plays the Land-Surveyor K., with Chico and Harpo as the two assistants. Yes, Roth is quite right: The comic is inseparable from the very essence of the Kafkan…[A] joke is only a joke if you’re outside the bowl; by contrast, the Kafkan takes us inside, into the guts of a joke, into the horror of the comic

In the world of the Kafkan, the comic is not a counterpoint to the tragic (the tragi-comic) as in Shakespeare; it’s not there to make the tragic more bearable by lightening the tone; it doesn’t accompany the tragic, not at all, it destroys in the egg and thus deprives the victims of the only consolation they could hope for: the consolation to be found in the (real or supposed) grandeur of tragedy.

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Poor Alonzo Quijada

From The Curtain by Milan Kundera:

Poor Alonzo Quijada meant to elevate himself into the legendary figure of a knight-errant. Instead, for all of literary history, Cervantes succeeded in doing just the opposite: he cast a legendary figure down: into the world of prose. “Prose”: the word signifies not only a nonversified language; it also signifies the concrete, everyday, corporeal nature of life. So to say that the novel is the art of prose is not to state the obvious; the word defines the deep sense of that art. Homer never wondered whether, after their many hand-to-hand struggles, Achilles or Ajax still had all their teeth. But for Don Quixote and Sancho teeth are perpetual concern – hurting teeth, missing teeth. “You must know, Sancho, that no diamond is so precious as a tooth.”

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A Sentence I Very Much Liked

From Tropical Gangsters: One Man’s Experience With Development And Decadence In Deepest Africa by Robert Klitgaard.

We went back into town and looked around. Despite all the horror stories I’d heard about local conditions, Malabo made a good first impression. Most buildings were two-story Spanish colonial structures of no small charm – although colors that used to be white and yellow and light green had faded to off-white and battle-scarred tan and moldy green. The water stains on the walls were like mascara after tears. Malabo’s little harbor was spectacular. Ridged by steep cliffs a hundred feet high crowned with a majestic row of palms, the half-mile or so of harbor contained one big dock and one small one, and the sea in the distance looked clear and deep.

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A Sentence I Liked Very Much

From Frederic Morton’s A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889.

By then the word Mayerling had already begun to phosphoresce throughout the world. Abroad it tingled and thrilled. In Vienna it was like some hidden hell machine of which nothing was known except that it was made of gold. Now and then the city tried to shake off the giant riddle that undermined its boulevards. There erupted rumors of some rational solution. At one point word spread that Johann Pfeiffer, King of the Birds, had heard his parrots speak the truth of what had happened in Rudolf’s hunting lodge. A crowd formed at the Schottenring. The police borught the man and his black-craped cage to a precint house. But the birds just bithered and jabbered in panic, and their King lost his renowned humor. The bafflement continued.

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Borges for October 31st

From the master, an excerpt from a review of “Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book”.

The preface contains this beautiful anecdote: Two ladies are sharing a railway compartment. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” says one to the other. “Oh really?” the other replies, and vanishes.

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DeVeronymous, Defonymous: the venomous, the defamous, the ridiculous

Ron Rosenbaum and shakespeareauthorship.com have already done enough good work on the Shakespearism related to and brought up by this film.

I’ll only add this small point: if context is sufficient to bring up the possibility of a concealed identity for a writer, in the case of Shakespeare’s – the lack of sufficient education, the writing about a variety of subjects and persons he did not have first-hand knowledge of, a lack of contemporary mention, the contxt of political intrigue – then I think conspiracists have a far better candidate for this sort of mystery in Daniel DeFoe. His education was university level but not Oxbridge, almost no portraits were made of him during his lifetime, he had far less repute or fame during his lifetime than Shakespeare, he wrote during a time of far greater turmoil – the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the rise of William and Mary – than the Elizabethean stability of the bard’s time, and finally, his writing from so many perspectives, though he was an ardent Puritan, and so many experiences – a prostitute and transported american colonist, solitary castaway, fighter during a the war in Spain – of which he bore no direct witness.

I point this out to make clear that a contextual basis for questioning a writer’s identity is a more uncertain business than these conspiracists assume, and that the obscurity of many writers’ lives, far more obscure than Shakespeare’s who was famous and well-known in his lifetime, allow for this speculation to be made.

I quote a few relevant sections of The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Daniel DeFoe by Richard West, a book praised by Allan Massie, Peter Ackroyd, and my humble self.

On his prodigious output, some of which he might be the possible – I will reclaim a word – birther, but whose authorship still remains unsettled:

During the five years between the accession of George I and the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 Defoe wrote lives of Peter the Great of Russia and Charles XII of Sweden, stories of pirates and murderers, bogus memoirs of soldiers and sailors, a history of the Church of Scotland, a manual of Christian family living, as well as dozens of short books and pamphlets. Defoe scholars still cannot agree on which of the hundreds of titles are really his. Occasionally one finds attributions that are inaccurate: the style is not Defoe’s, but more often, he is indeed the author – as in the case of what seems an unlikely candidate, a book published in 1718 entitled A Continuation of Letters written by a Turkish Spy at Paris, Giving an Impartial Account to the Diva at Constantinople of the most remarkable transactions of Europe, and discovering several Intrigues and Secrets of the Christian Courts, especially of that of Paris, continuous from the year 1687 to the year 1693. Written in Arabic, Translated from Italian, and from thence into English. However, the account in ‘Mohamed’s’ third letter of why Louis XIV in 1688 failed to stop a revolt by the ‘malcontents’ of England is pure Defoe in style and quotes one of his favourite maxims, comparing the French and English armies: ‘(viz.) that of the French, if the soldiers will but follow, the officers will always lead; and that of the English, if the officers will but lead, the soldiers will always follow’.

To modern readers, accustomed to thinking of books as either ‘fiction’ or ‘non-fiction’, it may seem odd that Defoe should pose as ‘Mohamed’, a Turkish spy at the court of Louis XIV. The preface to one edition of A Journal of the Plague Year denounces Defoe as a liar for his literary pretence. We like to make a distinction between what we think of as real and imagined, fact and fiction, true and false, news and propaganda. For Defoe the distinction was less clear cut. Just as his works of fiction, such as Moll Flanders, are based on fact, so his ostensibly factual Tour is full of amazing fibs and flights of imagination.

On his contemporary obscurity:

It is only at this late stage, when Defoe is nearing sixty and embarking on his great career as an author, that little by little we start to learn something about his private life and his family. We do not learn much, since almost nothing remains of his private correspondence. With Defoe, we face the problem that no contemporaries seem to have found him worthy of note. In all the letters and journals of prominent men and women of the early eighteenth century we look in vain for a mention of him. Even the hostile lampoonists, who vilified Defoe as a turncoat and devil, never ascribed to him any particular personal characteristic. From The Lives of the Poets we gain an intimate knowledge of Dryden, Addison, Steele, Prior, Pope and Richard Savage, but even if he had wished to, Dr. Johnson could not have filled a page on the character of Defoe.

On a possible reason for the this obscurity:

As a Dissenter from the trading class, Defoe may have felt an outsider even before his bankruptcy in 1692, but it was this that most probably turned him into a loner. Like all chronic debtors, Defoe was obliged to withdraw from the feasts and receptions of his liveried company, from his favourite coffee house or club, from the ‘treats’ of colleagues and even the dinner tables of friends and neighbours. He would not accept hospitality that he could not return.

His bankruptcy could even have meant excommunication by the Presbyterian Church, which equated financial failure with sin.

One last quote on Defoe, which gives an idea of a writer’s gifts for simulacrum, that he is able to fool even those who were there at the event, that, yes, he had known what it was like to be there, when he was nowhere near the place at the time. It is an anecdote that is a useful remedy in our era, when the only authenticity considered possible is autobiography, when in fact the gifts of writers and actors lie with creating whole truths and images, out of things partially known or heard of second hand.

In 1728, Defoe wrote Memoirs of an English Officer, purporting to be by Captain George Carleton, who is said to have gone to Spain with the Earl of Peterborough’s expedition in 1705.

Much of The Memoirs of an English Officer concerns the Spanish campaign which began with the capture of Barcelona and then pushed south to Valencia.

Captain Carleton is wounded and spends three years in ‘Sainte Clemente de la Mancha, rendered famous by Cervantes’, which enables Defoe to air his views on Don Quixote as well as on bull-fighting, nunneries and many other aspects of Spanish life.

Defoe’s Memoirs of an English Officer fooled even Dr. Johnson, who prided himself on detecting literary forgers, such as James Macpherson, the author of bogus translations from the Gaelic. On Sunday 27 June 1784 Boswell and Johnson dined at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s home in the company of Lord Eliot, whose tutor had also instructed the family of Lord Peterborough. Boswell records that Johnson asked Eliot:

‘Pray, my Lord, do you recollect any particulars that he told you of Lord Peterborough? He is a favourite of mine, and is not enough known; his character has been only ventilated in party pamphlets.’ Lord Eliot said, if Dr. Johnson would be so good as to ask him any questions, he would tell what he could recollect. Accordingly some things were mentioned. ‘But (said his Lordship) the best account of Lord Peterborough that I have happened to meet with, is in Captain Carleton’s Memoirs. Carleton was descended from an ancestor who had distinguished himself at the siege of Derry.’

The editor of this 1887 edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, George Birbeck Hill, adds a puzzled footnote on Lord Eliot’s remarks: ‘Carleton, according to the Memoirs, made his first service in the navy in 1672 – seventeen years before the siege of Derry. There is no mention of the siege in the book.’ Defoe’s authorship of the book was not revealed until the twentieth century.

Lord Eliot had obviously not questioned the authenticity of the Memoirs, and nor, as we now discover, had Johnson, for Boswell’s account continues: ‘Johnson said he had never heard of the book. Lord Eliot had it at Port Eliot; but, after a good deal of enquiry, procured a copy in London, and sent it to Johnson, who told Sir Joshua Reynolds that he was going to bed when it came, but was so much pleased with it, that he sat up till he had read it through, and found in it such an air of truth, that he could not doubt of its authenticity…’

Defoe never travelled to Spain and had no involvement in the military campaign there.

A coda on Shakespeare as Shakespeare, from David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, quoted in turn from David Aaronovitch’s useful poison antidote, Voodoo Histories (I believe this would fall under “#8. The Snobbery” in Rosenbaum’s list),

The purpose of the [conspiracy theorists], and by extension the purpose of their readers, is somehow to make themselves greater than even the greatest poet, partly, of course, by making him lesser. In this, says Mamet,

they invert the megalomaniacal equation and make themselves not the elect, but the superior of the elect…They…consign the (falsely named) creator to oblivion and turn to the adulation of the crowd for their deed of discovery and insight…They appoint themselves as “eternity” – the force that shall pass on all things…The anti-Stratfordian, like the flat-earther and the creationist, elects himself God – possessed of the power to supervene in the natural order – and the most deeply hidden but pervasive fantasy of the above is the ultimate delusion of godhead: I made the world.

They also understand what everybody else doesn’t, what everybody else would most like to deny. They are the lonely custodians of the truth, and they got there through the quality of their minds – and by being brave enough to read a book.

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Quickness

From the chapter “Quickness”, in Italo Calvino’s excellent Six Memos For the Next Millenium.

The novella is a horse, a means of transport with its own pace, a trot or a gallop according to the distance and the ground it has to travel over; but the speed Boccaccio is talking about is a mental speed. The listed defects of the clumsy storyteller are above all offenses against rhythm, as well as being defects of style, because he does not use the expressions appropriate either to the characters or to the events. In other words, even correctness of style is a question of quick adjustment, of agility of both thought and expression.

The horse as an emblem of speed, even speed of the mind, runs through the whole history of literature, heralding the entire problematics of our own technological viewpoint. The age of speed, in transport as in information, opens with one of the finest essays in English literature, Thomas De Quincey’s “The English Mail-Coach.” In 1849 he already understood everything we now know about the motorized highway world, including death-dealing high-speed crashes.

In the section called “The Vision of Sudden Death,” De Quincey describes a night journey on the box of an express mail coach with a gigantic coachman who is fast asleep. The technical perfection of the vehicle, and the transformation of the driver into a blind inanimate object, puts the traveler at the mercy of the mechanical inexorability of a machine. In the clarity of perception brought on by a dose of laudanum, De Quincey becomes aware that the horses are running uncontrollably at thirteen miles an hour on the wrong side of the road. This means certain disaster, not for the swift, sturdy mail coach but for the first unfortunate carriage to come along that road in the opposite direction. In fact, at the end of the straight, tree-lined avenue, which looks like a “Gothic aisle,” he sees a “frail reedy gig” in which a young couple are approaching at one mile an hour. “Between them and eternity, to all human calculation, there is but a minute and a-half.” De Quincey gives a shout: “Mine had been the first step; the second was for the young man; the third was for God.” The account of these few seconds has not been bettered even in an age in which the experience of high speeds has become a basic fact of life.

De Quincey succeeds in conveying a sense of an extremely short period of time that nonetheless contains both the calculation of the technical inevitability of the crash and the imponderable— God’s part in the matter—in virtue of which the two vehicles do not collide.

An excerpt from “Pacific Distances”, in Joan Didion’s excellent After Henry.

A good part of any day in Los Angeles is spent driving, alone, through streets devoid of meaning to the driver, which is one reason the place exhilarates some people, and floods others with an amorphous unease. There is about hours spent in transit a seductive unconnectedness. Conventional information is missing. Context clues are missing.

Such tranced hours are, for many people who live in Los Angeles, the dead center of being there, but there is nothing in them to encourage the normal impulse toward “recognition”, or narrative connection.

There are, in the pages of the Los Angeles newspapers, no Crack Queens, no Coma Moms or Terror Tots. Events may be lurid, but are rarely personalized.

A Redondo Beach woman apologized to her 7-year-old daughter, then apparently tried to take both their lives by driving over a cliff in the Malibu area Tuesday morning, authourities said. The mother, identified by the county coroner’s office as Susan Sinclaie, 29, was killed, but the child survived without serious injury. “I’m sorry I have to do this,” the woman is quoted as telling the child just before she suddenly swerved off Malibu Canyon Road, about 2 1/2 miles north of Pacific Coast Highway.

When I first moved to Los Angeles from New York, in 1964, I found the absence of narrative a deprivation. At the end of ten years I realized (quite suddenly alone one morning in a car) that I had come to find narrative sentimental.

Again, Calvino:

If during a certain period of my career as a writer I was attracted by folktales and fairytales, this was not the result of loyalty to an ethnic tradition (seeing that my roots are planted in an entirely modern and cosmopolitan Italy), nor the result of nostalgia for things I read as a child (in my family, a child could read only educational books, particularly those with some scientific basis). It was rather because of my interest in style and structure, in the economy, rhythm, and hard logic with which they are told.

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American Psycho Part Four: Last Thoughts

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

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

A few quick last notes.

Robert Hall

A character from the past who I think was in a relationship with Bateman while they were at university. Before he goes to a meal with Bethany, a woman he knew from the same time, we have this quick reference:

God, I’m thinking to myself as I walk into Vanities, only fifteen minutes late, I hope she hasn’t ended up with Robert Hall, that dumb asshole.

During the meal:

She smiles, pleased with herself, and still looking down, admits, with incomparable clarity, “Well, yes, I have a boyfriend and–”

“Who?”

“What?” She looks up.

“Who is he? What’s his name?”

“Robert Hall. Why?”

We expect him to say, Robert Hall, back from when we were at school? But instead we have a long period of him both pretending not to know who Hall was, and being very angry that she’s going to marry him.

“With Salomon Brothers?”

“No, he’s a chef.”

“With Salomon Brothers?”

“Patrick, he’s a chef. And co-owner of a restaurant.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, really, which one?” I ask, then under my breath, “I want to cross it out of my Zagat guide.”

“Its called Dorsia,” she says, then, “Patrick, are you okay?”

Yes, my brain does explode and my stomach bursts open inwardly – a spastic, acidic, gastric reaction; stars and planets, whole galaxies made up entirely of little white chef hats, race over the film of my vision. I choke out another question.

“Why Robert Hall?” I ask. “Why him?”

“I want to have children.”

“With Robert Hall?” I ask, incredulous. “You might as well do it with Captain Lou Albano, for Christ sakes. I just don’t get you. Bethany.”

She touches her napkin, looking down and then out onto the sidewalk, where waiters are setting up tables for dinner. I watch them too. “Why do I sense hostility on your part, Patrick?” she asks softly, then sips her wine.

“Maybe because I’m hostile,” I spit out. “Maybe because you sense this.”

“Jesus, Patrick,” she says, searching my face, genuinely upset. “I thought you and Robert were friends.”

Now, for some strange reason he pretends not to know who Hall was.

I pause, doubtful. “Were we?”

“Yes, Patrick, you were.”

“Robert Hall, Robert Hall, Robert Hall,” I mutter to myself, trying to remember. “Scholarship student? President of our senior class?” I think about it a second longer, then add, “Weak chin?”

“No, Patrick,” she says. “The other Robert Hall.”

“I’m confusing him with the other Robert Hall?” I ask.

“Yes, Patrick,” she says, exasperated.

Inwardly cringing, I close my eyes and sigh. “Robert Hall. Not the one whose parents own half of, like, Washington? Not the one who was” – I gulp – “captain of the crew team? Six feet?”

“Yes,” she says. “That Robert Hall.”

Then the punchline.

“Yes? But what?” She seems prepared to wait for an answer.

“But he was a fag,” I blurt out.

“No, he was not, Patrick,” she says, clearly offended.

I’m positive he was a fag.” I start nodding my head.

Why are you so positive?” she asks, not amused.

Well, he can’t tell her the real reason, so he makes up a few things which are very funny, though there may be a partial truth there.

“Because he used to let frat guys – not the ones in my house – like, you know, gang bang him at parties and tie him up and stuff. At least, you know, that’s what I’ve heard,” I say sincerely, and then, more humiliated than I have ever been in my entire life, I confess,Listen, Bethany, he offered me a… you know, a blow job once. In the, um, civics section of the library.

“Oh my god,” she gasps, disgusted. “Where’s the check?”

“Didn’t Robert Hall get kicked out for doing his thesis on Babar? Or something like Babar?” I ask. “Babar the elephant? The, oh Jesus, French elephant?”

After:

I try to smile. “Robert Hall’s not a fag–”

“I can assure you of that,” she says a tad too smugly. How can anyone get indignant over Robert Hall? Instead of saying “Oh yeah, you dumb sorry bitch” I say soothingly, “I’m sure you can,” then, “Tell me about him. I want to know how things stand with the two of you,” and then, smiling, furious, full of rage, I apologize. “I’m sorry.”

Later, right before he fantasises a brutal murder of her, this is what he says, this is what is so important for him, that makes him so angry.

“I said, what in the fuck are you doing with Robert Hall?” I whisper.

“What did you say?” As if in slow motion, like in a movie, she turns around.

I wait until she’s seen the nail gun and the gloved hands to scream, “What the fuck are you doing with Robert Hall?”

Tanning

Bateman constantly tans. I don’t think this is purely cosmetic. It’s to hide signs of his illness.

“Actually, where do you go, Bateman?” Van Patten asks. “For a tan.”

“Yeah, Bateman. Where do you go?” McDermott seems genuinely intrigued.

“Read my lips,” I say, “a tanning salon,” then irritably, “like everyone else.”

Bateman, though he has such a deep and constant tan that everyone notices, does not want to stand out.

At a meal with Bethany, there’s something that makes him very upset.

“Gosh, Patrick,” she says, looking at every part of my face.

“What?” I panic, immediately touching my hair. “Too much mousse? You don’t like the Kingsmen?”

“No.” She laughs. “I just don’t remember you being so tan back at school.

At dinner with Sean, the meeting ends like this:

Damien. You’re Damien,” I think I hear Sean mutter.

“What did you say?” I ask, looking up. “I didn’t hear you.”

Nice tan,” he sighs. “I said nice tan.”

I believe Sean knows that his brother is ill and continuing to have sex without telling anyone.

Hardbodies

A desirable woman is always referred to as a “hardbody”. It’s a strange label, that the quality most coveted in a woman is the hard firmness of a man.

Pierce and Pierce

The company Bateman works for. The play on words may have to do with murder. But it’s also two men’s names paired up.

Cigars

There are at least rhree references to cigars that I think are intended as obvious phallic jokes.

At the start of the meal with Bethany, we have:

“Didn’t you smoke at Harvard?” is the first thing she says.

Cigars,” I say. “Only cigars.”

“Oh,” she says.

But I quit that,” I lie, breathing in hard, squeezing my hands together.

After he has tortured Bethany close to death, we have:

Later, when she briefly regains consciousness, I put on a porkpie hat I was given by one of my girlfriends freshman year at Harvard.

“Remember this?” I shout, towering over her. “And look at this!” I scream triumphantly, holding up a cigar. “I still smoke cigars. Ha. See? A cigar.”

Towards the end of the break-up dinner with Evelyn.

“Tell me, Patrick, where are you going?”

I’ve placed a cigar on the table. She’s too upset to even comment. “I’m just leaving,” I say simply.

In the last scene, Price, who is sick with AIDS has this gesture:

“I just don’t get how someone, anyone, can appear that way yet be involved in such total shit,” Price says, ignoring Craig, averting his eyes from Farrell. He takes out a cigar and studies it sadly. To me it still looks like there’s a smudge on Price’s forehead.

Price looks sadly at this, since he can’t have sex with his illness.

The Book Tries To Tell Us What Kind of Book It Is

There are two moments which may be the book hinting at its double meaning.

A dinner with Evelyn, where he mentions a photo that has two captions.

“All I can think about is this poster I saw in the subway station the other night before I killed those two black kids – a photo of a baby calf, its head turned toward the camera, its eyes caught wide and staring by the flash, and its body seemed like it was boxed into some kind of crate, and in big, black letters below the photo it read, ‘Question: Why Can’t This Veal Calf Walk?’ Then, ‘Answer: Because It Only Has Two Legs.’ But then I saw another one, the same exact photo, the same exact calf, yet beneath it, this one read, ‘Stay Out of Publishing.’ “

A description of a conversation in the last scene could apply to the strange events of the book.

The conversation follows its own rolling accord – no real structure or topic or internal logic or feeling; except, of course, for its own hidden, conspiratorial one.

The Movie Version

I have seen the movie of this book only once, and have a poor memory of it. I don’t remember if it hinted at this subtext – if it even exists. I don’t see how a movie version could convey it, without letting the veil completely fall. We would see the actions in the book, the world as Bateman wants to see it, and then in the last ten minutes, just like in Fight Club we would see various in-between scenes giving a true sense of what took place – Carruthers and Bateman hooking up, Denton and Bateman hooking up, Evelyn explicitly blackmailing Timothy, Bateman having sex with Owen then blackmailing him over it, the romance with Robert Hall, the wanted poster downtown which says that Bateman has AIDS, the women he tortured and killed, still alive and well.

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

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American Psycho Part Three: Blackmail

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

Intro
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.

Meredith Powell

In American Psycho, blackmail plays a large role, with several men paying money that their secrets aren’t revealed. That Evelyn may have gotten the keys to the Hampton house through this method has already been mentioned.

There is also Meredith Powell, an almost invisible figure, who is dating Timothy Price.

Price makes this statement about her:

“Meredith’s a fag hag,” Price explains, unfazed, “that’s why I’m dumping her.”

At the dinner at the start of the book, Bateman notices that Meredith isn’t there.

“J&B rocks,” I tell him, suddenly thinking it’s strange that Meredith wasn’t invited.

Perhaps because Evelyn knows her purpose is purely ceremonial. Evelyn hates Meredith, again, for reasons Bateman does not reveal.

Instead of mentioning this and have her bore me silly with inane denials, I ask about Tim’s girlfriend, Meredith, whom Evelyn despises for reasons never made quite clear to me.

Perhaps because the men Meredith exploits, Evelyn is unable to. Perhaps because though both Evelyn and Meredith are exploiting Timothy Price, Evelyn doesn’t consider what she’s doing blackmail, and so she considers what Meredith is doing utterly cruel.

There is this conversation between Price and Bateman, where possibly what the women are paid for are different things, one for sex, the other for appearing to be a girlfriend.

“Might as well hire someone from an escort service,” he shouts bitterly, almost without thinking.

“Why?” I shout.

“Because she’s gonna cost you a lot more to get laid.”

“No way,” I scream.

“Listen, I put up with it too,” Price shouts, lightly shaking his glass. Ice cubes clank loudly, surprising me. “Meredith’s the same way. She expects to be paid. They all do.

Later, Meredith is dating someone else prominent.

“How is Meredith?” I ask, trying to mask my void of disinterest.

“Oh god She’s dating Richard Cunningham.” Evelyn moans. “He’s at First Boston. If you can believe it.”

Then Van Patten.

“But there’s a limit,” Van Patten is saying. “The point is, I mean, I don’t want to spend the evening with the Cookie Monster.”

“But you’re still dating Meredith so, uh, what’s the difference?” I ask. Naturally he doesn’t hear.

Meredith makes only a brief appearance in the book at the Christmas party, where she’s now with Paul Owen.

Meredith is wearing a beaded wool gabardine dress and bolero by Geoffrey Beene from Barney’s, diamond and gold earrings by James Savitt ($13,000), gloves by Geoffrey Beene for Portolano products, and she says, “Yes boys? What are you two talking about? Making up Christmas lists?”

“The sea urchins at Le Bernardin, darling,” Owen says.

“My favorite topic.” Meredith drapes an arm over my shoulder, while she confides to me as an aside, ‘”They’re fabulous.”

“Delectable.” I cough nervously.

So she has a very rich outfit, and for some reason, when she starts talking to Bateman, he gets worried.

When Paul Owen disappears, we find out in the conversation with the detective that she’s dating someone else, and she believes Owen still has money to pay her.

“Listen, like I said, I was just hired by Meredith.” He sighs, closing his book.

Tentatively, I ask, “Did you know that Meredith Powell is dating Brock Thompson?”

He shrugs, sighs. “I don’t know about that. All I know is that Paul Owen owes her supposedly a lot of money.”

She appears one last time, seemingly indifferent to the disappearance of her ex.

I also run into Meredith Powell later this week, on Friday night, at Ereze with Brock Thompson, and though we talk for ten minutes, mostly about why neither one of us is in the Hamptons, with Brock glaring at me the entire time, she doesn’t mention Paul Owen once.

So, among the men that Meredith acts as a beard for are Price, Owen, Van Patten, Cunningham, and Thompson. In a book where all the men often look the same, where two of the most aggressively male, Bateman and Price, are gay, this raises the possibility of a larger prank – that all the male executives in the book are secretly gay, though not all of them are aware of these secret identities.

Paul Owen and the Fisher Account

Meredith is with Paul Owen for a while, and it is Paul Owen who is also involved in blackmailing various men in turn, though it is not revealed explicitly as such. He is instead connected with the Fisher account, which Bateman is obsessed with for a considerable while, constantly wondering how Owen obtained it, and which he describes as “mysterious” for reasons he never says. Then, suddenly, with the disappearance of Owen, all talk of the importance of the Fisher account ends. The Fisher account is a very lucrative prize obtained through this blackmail.

This is how Owen and the Fisher account first show up in the book.

Price began his spiel today over lunch and then brought it up again during the squash game and continued ranting over drinks at Harry’s where he had gone on, over three J&Bs and water, much more interestingly about the Fisher account that Paul Owen is handling.

Preston slurs that he obtained the Fisher account not through Owen’s own merits, but the usual suspect, jewish connections.

Owen stands at the bar wearing a double-breasted wool suit.

“He’s handling the Fisher account,” someone says.

“Lucky bastard,” someone else murmurs.

“Lucky Jew bastard,” Preston says.

“Oh Jesus, Preston,” I say. “What does that have to do with anything?”

He’s someone Bateman is frightened of.

“No. Oh no,” Van Patten says ominously. “He hasn’t spotted us yet.”

“Victor Powell? Paul Owen?” I say, suddenly scared.

I look over at Paul Owen, sitting in a booth with three other guys – one of whom could be Jeff Duvall, suspenders, slicked-back hair, horn-rimmed glasses, all of them drinking champagne – and I lazily wonder about how Owen got the Fisher account.

The only long conversation between them.

“How have you been?” Owen asks.

“I’ve been great,” I say. “And you?”

“Oh terrific,” he says. “How’s the Hawkins account going?”

“It’s…” I stall and then continue, faltering momentarily, “It’s… all right.”

“Really?” he asks, vaguely concerned. “That’s interesting,” he says, smiling, hands clasped together behind his back. “Not great?”

“Oh well,” I say. “You… know.”

“And how’s Marcia?” he asks, still smiling, looking over the room, not really listening to me. “She’s a great girl.”

“Oh yes,” I say, shaken. “I’m… lucky.”

Owen has mistaken me for Marcus Halberstam (even though Marcus is dating Cecelia Wagner) but for some reason it really doesn’t matter and it seems a logical faux pas since Marcus works at P & P also, in fact does the same exact thing I do, and he also has a penchant for Valentino suits and clear prescription glasses and we share the same barber at the same place, the Pierre Hotel, so it seems understandable; it doesn’t irk me. But Paul Denton keeps staring at me, or trying not to, as if he knows something, as if he’s not quite sure if he recognizes me or not, and it makes me wonder if maybe he was on that cruise a long time ago, one night last March. If that’s the case, I’m thinking, I should get his telephone number or, better yet, his address.

Bateman is very nervous talking to this man, and wants to say as little as possible to him out of fear. The bolded text on Halberstam, I think, carries a double meaning – he knows Halberstam is in the closet as well. The scene also includes the strange brief appearance of Denton.

The next time Owen shows up is at the U2 concert. There is the very unusual moment where Bateman watches Bono and is incredibly turned on. It is after this that he suddenly has an incredible need to ask Owen about the Fisher account.

And then everyone, the audience, the band, reappears and the music slowly swells up and Bono turns away and I’m left tingling, my face flushed, an aching erection pulsing against my thigh, my hands clenched in fists of tension. But suddenly everything stops, as if a switch has been turned off, the backdrop flashes back to white. Bono is on the other side of the stage now and everything, the feeling in my heart, the sensation combing my brain, vanishes and now more than ever I need to know about the Fisher account that Owen is handling and this information seems vital, more pertinent than the bond I feel I have with Bono, who is now dissolving and remote.

I don’t think this a jape at a banker whose every feeling moves him towards money and business. It’s the fact that his attraction to Bono on stage and the Fisher account are connected.

During the concert, he manages to talk to Owen about it.

“Are you still handling the Fisher account?” I shout back.

“Yeah,” he screams. “Lucked out, huh, Marcus?”

“You sure did,” I scream. “How did you get it?”

“Well, I had the Ransom account and things just fell into place.” He shrugs helplessly, the smooth bastard. “You know?”

My bold.

Bateman, at Christmas, is still obsessed with the account:

I wanted [Jean] to find out as much as she could about the Fisher account that Paul Owen is handling.

My priorities before Christmas include the following:

(3) to find out as much as humanly possible about Paul Owen’s mysterious Fisher account

They go out for dinner. Bateman picks a place where they won’t be seen.

I choose Texarkana because I know that a lot of people I have dealings with are not going to be eating there tonight.

Bateman keeps trying to find out about the Fisher account at dinner.

When I press for information about the Fisher account he offers useless statistical data that I already knew about: how Rothschild was originally handling the account, how Owen came to acquire it. And though I had Jean gather this information for my files months ago, I keep nodding, pretending that this primitive info is revelatory and saying things like “This is enlightening” while at the same time telling him “I’m utterly insane” and “I like to dissect girls.” Every time I attempt to steer the conversation back to the mysterious Fisher account, he infuriatingly changes the topic back to either tanning salons or brands of cigars or certain health clubs or the best places to jog in Manhattan and he keeps guffawing, which I find totally upsetting.

The conversation as presented, is completely inscrutable. Bateman never makes clear what he’s trying to find out about the account, what makes it so mysterious, or why Owen is so resistant. The conversational detours Owen makes, however, in not answering the question – tanning salons, certain health clubs, best places to jog – all could be considered places to pick up gay men.

Next, a drunk Owen ends up at Bateman’s apartment. It’s here that Bateman fantasizes murdering the man. I don’t think this happens at all. I believe they have sex, Bateman blackmails Owen, who is then forced to leave for London. Bateman, who constantly resorts to violent fantasy as a cover for his gay life does so here. The Fisher account is never brought up again – except in the last scene when an unknown voice asks who’s handling it, though an answer is never given.

The hint given that Owen and Bateman have had sex is subtle, but there in the detective interview.

“Well.” I cough, swallowing two Nuprin, dry. “I didn’t know him that well.”

“How well did you know him?” he asks.

“I’m… at a loss,” I tell him, somewhat truthfully. “He was part of that whole… Yale thing, you know.”

“Yale thing?” he asks, confused.

I pause, having no idea what I’m talking about. “Yeah . . Yale thing.”

“What do you mean… Yale thing?” Now he’s intrigued.

I pause again – what do I mean? “Well, I think, for one, that he was probably a closet homosexual.” I have no idea; doubt it, considering his taste in babes.

He doubts it, though Owen dates Meredith who’s already been described as a “fag hag”. Owen also dated Laurie Kennedy, and Bateman has as well. The Yale Club bathroom is the scene of the first prolonged encounter with Carruthers.

Also,

I’m sensing frustration on Kimball’s part and he asks, “What kind of man was he? Besides” – he falters, tries to smile – “the information you’ve just given.”

How could I describe Paul Owen to this guy? Boasting, arrogant, cheerful dickhead who constantly weaseled his way out of checks at Nell’s? That I’m heir to the unfortunate information that his penis had a name and that name was Michael? No. Calmer, Bateman. I think that I’m smiling.

Although it’s very subtle, and I’m unsure of it, I think Bateman is very nervous during the interview with the private investigator for a reason that has nothing to do with his fantasy of killing Owen.

The door to the office opens and I wave in the detective, who is surprisingly young, maybe my age, wearing a linen Armani suit not unlike mine, though his is slightly disheveled in a hip way, which worries me.

I think about it, then feebly announce, “We were both seven in 1969.”

Kimball smiles. “So was I.”

The investigator is the same age as Bateman and Owen. He dresses like Bateman, but in a way that’s more hip, which for the strangest reason frightens him. He suspects that the investigator is gay, but openly gay, and that he can tell that Bateman is as well, but hiding it.

The Cabdriver

The last instance of blackmail in the novel involves an entirely new character, the cabdriver, and it is the second to last scene. The cabdriver sees Bateman, knows he’s wanted for something, then threatens to tell unless his valuables are handed over. In the context of Bateman as serial killer, it makes no sense. The cabdriver is not frightened of the man at all. He shows no interest in calling the police or killing Bateman, though as a cabbie, he no doubt has been threatened with the possibility of violent crime. Though his photo ID is there in the cab, he points a gun at Bateman, then takes his watch, cash, and sunglasses with impunity as if he knows that Bateman will never ever try to identify him. It is not a fantasy of Bateman’s, since he neither kills the cabbie or the old woman who taunts him afterwards.

It does however, make sense in a differet context.

The chapter opens like this:

Another broken scene in what passes for my life occurs on Wednesday, seemingly pointing to someone’s fault, though whose I can’t be sure.

The scene is broken, we are only getting the partial story. Someone else, another identity is to blame for what happens next. I don’t think the next few quotes require much elaboration.

“Hey, don’t I know you?” he asks in a thick, barely penetrable accent that could easily be either New Jersey or Mediterranean.

“No.” I start putting the Walkman back on.

“You look familiar,” he says. “What’s your name?”

“I’ve seen your face somewhere.”

Finally, exasperated, I ask, trying to appear casual, “You have? Really? Interesting. Just watch the road, Abdullah.”

There’s a long, scary pause while he stares at me in the rearview mirror and the grim smile fades. His face is blank. He says, “I know. Man, I know who you are,” and he’s nodding, his mouth drawn tight.

“You’re the guy who kill Solly.” His face is locked into a determined grimace. As with everything else, the following happens very quickly, though it feels like an endurance test.

I swallow, lower my sunglasses and tell him to slow down before asking, “Who, may I ask, is Sally?”

Man, your face is on a wanted poster downtown,” he says, unflinching.

“I think I would like to stop here,” I manage to croak out.

“You’re the guy, right?” He’s looking at me like I’m some kind of viper.

The wanted poster is not one put up for someone wanted for murder. It’s a poster put up in a community identifying someone as having AIDS who continues to have sex without informing his partners.

“You kill Solly,” he says, definitely recognizing me from somewhere, cutting another denial on my part by growling, “You son-of-a-bitch.”

How do you know I’m not going to call you in and get your license revoked?” I ask, handing over a knife I just found in my pocket that looks as if it was dipped into a bowl of blood and hair.

Because you’re guilty,” he says, and then, “Get that away from me,” waving the gun at the stained knife.

“How do you know I’m guilty?” I can’t believe I’m asking this patiently.

Look what you’re doing, asshole,” he says.

Bateman’s last line in the scene:

While walking back to the highway I stop, choke back a sob, my throat tightens. “I just want to…” Facing the skyline, through all the baby talk, I murmur, “keep the game going.”

Continued…

Intro
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.

Tagged , ,

American Psycho Part Two: Timothy Price

(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)

Intro
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.

Timothy Price shows up as an aggressive, obnoxious presence in the first part of the book serving almost as a model for Bateman, then disappears for most of it for reasons that are never clear, then re-appears towards the end as a much sadder, more forlorn figure.

Like Bateman, Price is aggressive in asserting that he does not like gays.

“Did you read about the host from that game show on TV? He killed two teenage boys? Depraved faggot. Droll, really droll.”

Price turns back to me and, after running a hand over his stiff, slicked-back hair, seems to relent. “I guess you’re right,” and then he raises his voice, “that is, if the faggot in the next stall thinks it’s okay.”

“Ah,” Price exclaims. “One of those young British faggots serving internship at…?”

“How do you know he’s a faggot?” I ask him.

“They’re all faggots.” Price shrugs. “The British.”

Well, perhaps there’s another reason he knows that.

In the first part of the book, Price is almost always violently angry, again serving almost as an ideal for the violent anger Bateman expresses later. Though he is such an aggressively straightforward character, his scenes are filled with ambiguous moments.

For instance, in the opening scene, he runs into men who he may know, but who he cannot acknowledge. Someone who might be Carruthers:

Outside this cab, on the sidewalks, black and bloated pigeons fight over scraps of hot dogs in front of a Gray’s Papaya while transvestites idly look on and a police car cruises silently the wrong way down a one?way street and the sky is low and gray and in a cab that’s stopped in traffic across from this one, a guy who looks a lot like Luis Carruthers waves over at Timothy and when Timothy doesn’t return the wave the guy – slicked-back hair, suspenders, horn-rimmed glasses – realizes it’s not who he thought it was and looks back at his copy of USA Today.

A figure with slicked-back hair and horn-rimmed glasses approaches in the distance, wearing a beige double-breasted wool-gabardine Cerruti 1881 suit and carrying the same Tumi leather attaché case from D. F. Sanders that Price has, and Timothy wonders aloud, “Is it Victor Powell? It can’t be.”

The man passes under the fluorescent glare of a streetlamp with a troubled look on his face that momentarily curls his lips into a slight smile and he glances at Price almost as if they were acquainted but just as quickly he realizes that he doesn’t know Price and just as quickly Price realizes it’s not Victor Powell and the man moves on.

Powell is mentioned again at Evelyn’s during the dinner scene at the beginning, one of those men like Denton, Owen, and Carruthers that Patrick Bateman is very scared of, no reason given.

I move toward the refrigerator anyway. Staring darkly, Price reenters the kitchen and says, “Who in the hell is in the living room?”

Evelyn feigns ignorance. “Oh who is that?”

Courtney warns, “Ev-el-yn. You did tell them, I hope.”

“Who is it?” I ask, suddenly scared. “Victor Powell?”

A later moment, during a lunch:

“No. Oh no,” Van Patten says ominously. “He hasn’t spotted us yet.”

“Victor Powell? Paul Owen?” I say, suddenly scared.

Powell never otherwise shows up in the book.

There is then this strange moment at Evelyn’s. Evelyn wants to talk to Timothy, Timothy is very angry at Evelyn, but we are never told why.

“I have to talk to you,” Evelyn says.

“What about?” I come up to her.

“No,” she says and then pointing at Tim, “to Price.”

Tim still glares at her fiercely. I say nothing and stare at Tim’s drink.

They return, no explanation given. What Timothy is about to reveal is not, I believe, that he is having an affair with Evelyn. There is possibly a humorous subtext to Evelyn’s line here.

Evelyn and Timothy come back perhaps twenty minutes after we’ve seated ourselves and Evelyn looks only slightly flushed. Tim glares at me as he takes the seat next to mine, a fresh drink in hand, and he leans over toward me, about to say, to admit something, when suddenly Evelyn interrupts, “Not there, Timothy,” then, barely a whisper, “Boy girl, boy girl.”

Both are very unhappy during dinner.

Price isn’t eating and neither is Evelyn; I suspect cocaine but it’s doubtful.

During the dinner, this small moment has a secondary meaning, I think.

Vanden tosses the copy of Deception next to Timothy and smirks in a wan, bitchy way

And again, Evelyn’s line here is humorous.

Everyone stays silent. Tim quickly looks over at me. I glance at Courtney, then back at Tim, then at Evelyn. Evelyn meets my glance, then worriedly looks over at Tim. I also look over at Tim, then at Courtney and then at Tim again, who looks at me once more before answering slowly, unsurely, “Cactus pear.”

Cactus fruit,” Evelyn corrects.

After dinner, Timothy, Patrick, and Evelyn are in a room together, where Evelyn and Timothy seem to flirt with each other – but not in a way of two people having an affair, but openly, as if nothing can come of the flirting.

Now Price is on his knees and he smells and sniffs at Evelyn’s bare legs and she’s laughing. I tense up.
“Oh god,” she moans loudly. “Get out of here.”
“You are orange.” He laughs, on his knees, his head in her lap. “You look orange.”
“I am not,” she says, her voice a low prolonged growl of pain, ecstasy. “Jerk.”
I lie on the bed watching the two of them. Timothy is in her lap trying to push his head under the Ralph Lauren robe. Evelyn’s head is thrown back with pleasure and she is trying to push him away, but playfully, and hitting him only lightly on his back with her Jan Hové brush. I am fairly sure that Timothy and Evelyn are having an affair. Timothy is the only interesting person I know.

The final scene with Timothy before he disappears is at the Tunnel club, a section full of unusual moments. This paragraph contains many of them:

I follow him as he rushes through the narrow corridor that runs parallel to the dance floor, then into the bar and finally into the Chandelier Room, which is jammed with guys from Drexel, from Lehman’s, from Kidder Peabody, from First Boston, from Morgan Stanley, from Rothschild, from Goldman, even from Citibank for Christ sakes, all of them wearing tuxedos, holding champagne flutes, and effortlessly, almost as if it were the same song, “New Sensation” segues into “The Devil Inside” and Price spots Ted Madison leaning against the railing in the back of the room, wearing a double-breasted wool tuxedo, a wing-collar cotton shirt from Paul Smith, a bow tie and cummerbund from Rainbow Neckwear, diamond studs from Trianon, patent-leather and grosgrain pumps by Ferragamo and an antique Hamilton watch from Saks; and past Madison, disappearing into darkness, are the twin train tracks which tonight are lit garishly in preppy greens and pinks and Price suddenly stops walking, stares past Ted, who smiles knowingly when he spots Timothy, and Price gazes longingly at the tracks as if they suggest some kind of freedom, embody an escape that Price has been searching for, but I shout out to him, “Hey, there’s Teddy,” and this breaks his gaze and he shakes his head as if to clear it, refocuses his gaze on Madison and shouts decisively, “No, that’s not Madison for Christ sakes, that’s Turnball,” and the guy who I thought was Madison is greeted by two other guys in tuxedos and he turns his back to us and suddenly, behind Price, Ebersol wraps an arm around Timothy’s neck and laughingly pretends to strangle him, then Price pushes the arm away, shakes Ebersol’s hand and says, “Hey Madison.”

There are no women in this club, only men wearing tuxedoes. The dress code is tuxedoes, but Price and Bateman are not wearing the proper recognisable uniform. Turnball has a knowing smile for Price, but we are not told why. Timothy is desperately looking for an escape, for some freedom that isn’t here. Ebersol pretends to choke Timothy, just as Bateman almost chokes Carruthers in the Yale Club. Price doesn’t want this intimacy, and gives a formal shake.

Madison, who I thought was Ebersol, is wearing a splendid double-breasted white linen jacket by Hackett of London from Bergdorf Goodman. He has a cigar that hasn’t been lit in one hand and a champagne glass, half full, in the other.

“Mr. Price,” shouts Madison. “Very good to see you, sir.”

“Madison,” Price cries back. “We need your services.”

“Looking for trouble?” Madison smiles.

“Something more immediate,” Price shouts back.

“Of course,” Madison shouts and then, coolly for some reason, nods at me, shouting, I think, “Bateman,” and then, “Nice tan.”

I believe what’s shown here is a hint that Madison occasionally provides Price with sex, and that Madison is cautious about Bateman, he doesn’t know if he can trust him with certain secrets.

Price is leaving; what exactly is he leaving?

“I’m leaving,” Price shouts. “I’m getting out.”

“Leaving what?” I shout back, confused.

This,” he shouts, referring to, I’m not sure but I think, his double Stoli.

“Don’t,” I tell him. “I’ll drink it.”

“Listen to me, Patrick,” he screams. “I’m leaving.”

“Where to?” I really am confused. “You want me to find Ricardo?”

“I’m leaving,” he screams. “I… am… leaving!”

I start laughing, not knowing what he means. “Well, where are you going to go?”

Away!” he shouts.

“Don’t tell me,” I shout back at him. “Merchant banking?”

“No, Bateman. I’m serious you dumb son-of-a-bitch. Leaving. Disappearing.”

“Where to?” I’m still laughing, stilt confused, still shouting. “Morgan Stanley? Rehab?What?”

He looks away from me, doesn’t answer, just keeps staring past the railings, trying to find the point where the tracks come to an end, find what lies behind the blackness.

Not banking, not rehab – there is something that Price wants very much to escape.

After he leaves, Evelyn wonders what happened to him.

She’s asking me about Tim. “Where do you think that rascal has been? Rumor is he’s at Sachs,” she says ominously.

“Rumor is,” I say, “he’s in rehab. This champagne isn’t cold enough.” I’m distracted. “Doesn’t he send you postcards?”

“Has he been sick?” she asks, with the slightest trepidation.

“Yes, I think so,” I say. “I think that’s what it is. You know, if you order a bottle of Cristal it should at least be, you know, cold.”

“Oh my god,” Evelyn says. “You think he might be sick?”

“Yes. He’s in a hospital. In Arizona,” I add. The word Arizona has a mysterious tinge to it and I say it again. “Arizona. I think.”

“Oh my god,” Evelyn exclaims, now truly alarmed, and she gulps down what little Cristal is left in her glass.

“Who knows?” I manage the slightest of shrugs.

“You don’t think…” She breathes in and puts her glass down. “You don’t think it’s” – and now she looks around the restaurant before leaning in, whispering – “AIDS?”

There are two points of interest here – that Evelyn’s first assumption of what Price might be suffering from is AIDS, since, as David Van Patten enthusiastically points out again and again,

“I have read this article I’ve Xeroxed,” Van Patten says, “and it says our chances of catching that are like zero zero zero zero point half a decimal percentage or something, and this no matter what kind of scumbag, slutbucket, horndog chick we end up boffing.”

and by “we”, he means straight men.

The other point is “Arizona”, which shows up again and again, a predictable code for something else.

In the bathroom of the Yale Club, after Carruthers confesses his feelings for Bateman, he says:

“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted it…” He’s sighing, rubbing my shoulders, trembling. “Ever since that Christmas party at Arizona 206. You know the one, you were wearing that red striped paisley Armani tie.”

In the last encounter with Carruthers, he says that he’ll be leaving this all behind.

“Anyway,” he says, once we’ve reached the other side of the store, where I pretend to look through a row of silk ties but everything’s blurry, “you’ll be glad to know that I’m transferring… out of state.”

Something rises off me and I’m able to ask, but still without looking at him, “Where?”

“Oh, a different branch,” he says, sounding remarkably relaxed, probably due to the fact that I actually inquired about the move. “In Arizona.”

And this is where Carruthers believes they can live together as a couple.

He’s not listening. Still on my haunches, I just stare at him in disbelief.

“Please, Patrick, please. Listen to me, I’ve figured it all out. I’m quitting P & P, you can too, and, and, and we’ll relocate to Arizona, and then–”

Until his return, Price is then almost never referred to in the book, except once, and I think it answers an earlier question.

The house we stayed at was actually Tim Price’s, which Evelyn had the keys to for some reason, but in my stupefied state I refused to ask for specifics.

Evelyn somehow has the keys to this vast house. Well, there’s the possibility that Bateman considers, which is that she and Price were having an affair. But Price has disappeared, they are no longer seeing each other, so she shouldn’t still have the keys. Besides, she should be far more worried for herself if she thought he had AIDS and she could have contracted it. So, perhaps it’s blackmail. Blackmail over his secret life. It was perhaps this that they discussed in private in the first scene which caused such tension between them.

Then, Price returns.

And, for the sake of form, Tim Price resurfaces, or at least I’m pretty sure he does. While I’m at my desk simultaneously crossing out the days in my calendar that have already passed and reading a new best seller about once management called Why It Works to Be a Jerk, Jean buzzes in, announcing that Tim Price wants to talk, and fearfully I say, “Send him… in.”…He sits down, across from me, on the other side of the Palazzetti glass-top desk. There’s a smudge on his forehead or at least that’s what I think I see. Aside from that he looks remarkably fit.

He’s become another man who Bateman is afraid of. He carries a mark of penitence, also of sickness, but for some reason:

While writing it down for him, I mention, “You’ve been gone, like, forever, Tim. What’s the story?” I ask, again noticing the smudge on his forehead, though I get the feeling that if I asked someone else if it was truly there, he (or she) would just say no.

Only Bateman believes he can see this mark, perhaps because he believes that only he can infer that Price is very sick. Price has AIDS.

As he leaves I’m wondering and not wondering what happens in the world of Tim Price, which is really the world of most of us: big ideas, guy stuff, boy meets the world, boy gets it.

There may be a secondary meaning there.

During their brief conversation in this scene between Bateman and Price, we have:

[Price] takes this in, remembers something. “Courtney?”

“She married Luis.”

“Grassgreen?”

“No. Carruthers.”

He takes this in too. “Do you have her number?”

He has never had any interest in Courtney, but he suddenly wants to contact her. It’s because she’s married to Carruthers, and he believes Carruthers has contracted AIDS as well, and she needs to be told before she gets infected herself.

Price shows up in the last scene, and once again, it’s full of ambiguity. He gets very upset while watching Ronald Reagan speak, though it’s implied the true cause is something else, that’s never made explicit.

On the screen now are scenes from President Bush’s inauguration early this year, then a speech from former President Reagan, while Patty delivers a hard-to-hear commentary. Soon a tiresome debate forms over whether he’s lying or not, even though we don’t, can’t, hear the words. The first and really only one to complain is Price, who, though I think he’s bothered by something else, uses this opportunity to vent his frustration, looks inappropriately stunned, asks, “How can he lie like that? How can he pull that shit?

Price looks away from the television screen, then at Craig, and he tries to hide his displeasure by asking me, waving at the TV, “I don’t believe it. He looks so… normal. He seems so… out of it. So… undangerous.

I just don’t get how someone, anyone, can appear that way yet be involved in such total shit,” Price says, ignoring Craig, averting his eyes from Farrell. He takes out a cigar and studies it sadly. To me it still looks like there’s a smudge on Price’s forehead.

“How can you be so fucking, I don’t know, cool about it?” Price, to whom something really eerie has obviously happened, sounds genuinely perplexed. Rumor has it that he was in rehab.

“Oh brother.” Price won’t let it die. “Look,” he starts, trying for a rational appraisal of the situation. “He presents himself as a harmless old codger. But inside…” He stops. My interest picks up, flickers briefly. “But inside…” Price can’t finish the sentence, can’t add the last two words he needs: doesn’t matter. I’m both disappointed and relieved for him.

The secret cause of Price’s anger is never exactly revealed. It is someone who is lying, doing something very dangerous, yet looks very normal on the surface. It’s perhaps someone who is in the closet, appears not to have AIDS, lies that he doesn’t, yet spreads the infection around. This could be many people. But it is Reagan on the television that makes Price so angry. Though Price doesn’t know yet it’s definitely this person, Reagan on the TV might cause the careful reader to connect this to a very strange moment in one of the first scnes of the book.

“No,” I start, hesitantly. “Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. Ensure a strong national defense, prevent the spread of communism in Central America, work for a Middle East peace settlement, prevent U.S. military involvement overseas. We have to ensure that America is a respected world power. Now that’s not to belittle our domestic problems, which are equally important, if not more. Better and more affordable long-term care for the elderly, control and find a cure for the AIDS epidemic, clean up environmental damage from toxic waste and pollution, improve the quality of primary and secondary education, strengthen laws to crack down on crime and illegal drugs. We also have to ensure that college education is affordable for the middle class and protect Social Security for senior citizens plus conserve natural resources and wilderness areas and reduce the influence of political action committees.”

This is Bateman, talking like a presidential candidate. There is another scene, mentioned in the next post that also points to Bateman spreading the virus among many victims.

A quick detour back. There’s a very quick hint that someone else may be sick, direcly infected by Bateman, and that’s Carruthers.

From their last encounter:

You are sick,” I tell him.

“If I’m sick it’s because of you,” he says too casually, checking his nails. “Because of you I am sick and I will not get better.”

Carruthers is speaking of sentiment, but Bateman knows of another possibility here.

A quick turn back to one of the earliest scenes, with Evelyn that I think has a hidden significance:

“You know,” she says clearly, “Stash tested positive for the AIDS virus. And…” She pauses, something on the screen catching her interest; the volume goes slightly up and then is lowered. “And… I think he will probably sleep with Vanden tonight.”
“Good,” I say, biting lightly at her neck, one of my hands on a firm, cold breast.
“You’re evil,” she says, slightly excited, running her hands along my broad, hard shoulder.

Bateman’s pose is that of a vampire, biting into her neck, after Evelyn speaks of this other couple where the man has AIDS. The very thing that Stash is doing, Bateman is doing as well. This behaviour may be fatal for Stash’s girlfriend; it’s implied here that it will eventually kill off Evelyn as well, that her life will be sucked out of her by Bateman.

Finally, the last paragraph in the book.

Someone has already taken out a Minolta cellular phone and called for a car, and then, when I’m not really listening, watching instead someone <who looks remarkably like Marcus Halberstam paying a check, someone asks, simply, not in relation to anything, “Why?” and though I’m very proud that I have cold blood and that I can keep my nerve and do what I’m supposed to do, I catch something, then realize it: Why? and automatically answering, out of the blue, for no reason, just opening my mouth, words coming out, summarizing for the idiots: “Well, though I know I should have done that instead of not doing it, I’m twenty-seven for Christ sakes and this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…” and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.

Patrick Bateman sees Marcus Halberstam, who he is constantly mistaken for, paying a check, or – paying a bill, Bateman will soon be paying a very heavy bill for what he’s done. The “why” asked, and the answer, have nothing to do with the fantasised serial killing, but with his own secret life. The “one thing” he could have done makes no sense in the context of the serial killing, but I believe it makes sense if the one thing was coming out of the closet or revealing that he has AIDS. It’s now too late. He is in hell, and he will never leave.

Continued…

Intro
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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