(though none of the book’s explicit sections are quoted here, some of the language will be very offensive to some)
Let’s start with the book’s lead, Patrick Bateman. First, it should be emphasised that this is not someone comfortable about gay men:
I should probably be stretching first but if I do that I’ll have to wait in line – already some faggot is behind me, probably checking out my back, ass, leg muscles.
I finish twenty minutes on the Stairmaster and let the overmuscled, bleached-blond, middle-aged faggot behind me use it and I commence with stretching exercises.
“You reek,” I tell him. “You reek of… shit.” I’m still petting the dog, its eyes wide and wet and grateful. “Do you know that? Goddamnit, Al – look at me and stop crying like some kind of faggot,” I shout.
On the way to Wall Street this morning, due to gridlock I had to get out of the company car and was walking down Fifth Avenue to find a subway station when I passed what I thought was a Halloween parade, which was disorienting since I was fairly sure this was May. When I stopped on the corner of Sixteenth Street and made a closer inspection it turned out to be something called a “Gay Pride Parade,” which made my stomach turn. Homosexuals proudly marched down Fifth Avenue, pink triangles emblazoned on pastel?colored windbreakers, some even holding hands, most singing “Somewhere” out of key and in unison. I stood in front of Paul Smith and watched with a certain traumatized fascination, my mind reeling with the concept that a human being, a man, could feel pride over sodomizing another man, but when I began to receive fey catcalls from aging, overmuscled beachboys with walruslike mustaches in between the lines “There’s a place for us, Somewhere a place for us,” I sprinted over to Sixth Avenue, decided to be late for the office and took a cab back to my apartment where I put on a new suit (by Cerruti 1881), gave myself a pedicure and tortured to death a small dog I had bought earlier this week in a pet store on Lexington.
In the last quote, we have a recurring theme of the book – the fantasy of violence in order to deal with the perception, and more than just the perception, of being gay.
So, perhaps the first most blatant sign to something hidden in his character is when he goes to see U2, a band he doesn’t like and has no interest in, and Bono is on stage:
But when I sit down something strange on the stage catches my eye. Bono has now moved across the stage, following me to my seat, and he’s staring into my eyes, kneeling at the edge of the stage, wearing black jeans (maybe Gitano), sandals, a leather vest with no shirt beneath it. His body is white, covered with sweat, and it’s not worked out enough, there’s no muscle tone and what definition there might be is covered beneath a paltry amount of chest hair. He has a cowboy hat on and his hair is pulled back into a ponytail and he’s moaning some dirge – I catch the lyric “A hero is an insect in this world” – and he has a faint, barely noticeable but nonetheless intense smirk on his face and it grows, spreading across it confidently, and while his eyes blaze, the backdrop of the stage turns red and suddenly I get this tremendous surge of feeling, this rush of knowledge and my own heart beats faster because of this and it’s not impossible to believe that an invisible cord attached to Bono has now encircled me and now the audience disappears and the music slows down, gets softer, and it’s just Bono onstage – the stadium’s deserted, the band fades away…
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.
A very small hint here, a glaring incongruity for a man who appears to hate gay men so much, in a quote which might embody the book itself, the datum there amidst the image of sexual violence that Bateman wants to project:
After more stretching exercises to cool down I take a quick hot shower and then head to the video store where I return two tapes I rented on Monday, She-Male Reformatory and Body Double, but I rerent Body Double because I want to watch it again tonight even though I know I won’t have enough time to masturbate over the scene where the woman is getting drilled to death by a power drill since I have a date with Courtney at seven-thirty at Café Luxembourg.
However, where I think the mask really falls off are in the encounters with Luis Carruthers. A superficial reading is that Luis, a secretly gay man, hits on Bateman, and Bateman, the alpha male banker rejects those advances, and despises him for his homosexuality. I believe something more complicated is going on. This is the first scene where Carruthers expresses an attraction for Bateman. It’s a strange one. They are both at the Yale Club. Carruthers goes to the bathroom. Bateman follows. I believe every time Bateman talks about killing, it’s a way of somehow insisting that he’s not gay, but a heterosexual. And so, Bateman follows Carruthers to the bathroom, where the urinal door is left ajar, and moves forward, he says, to strangle him:
In slow motion, my own heavy breathing blocking out all other sounds, my vision blurring slightly around the edges, my hands move up over the collar of his cashmere blazer and cotton flannel shirt, circling his neck until my thumbs meet at the nape and my index fingers touch each other just above Luis’s Adam’s apple. I start to squeeze, tightening my grip, but it’s loose enough to let Luis turn around – still in slow motion – so he can stand facing me, one hand over his wool and silk Polo sweater, the other hand reaching up. His eyelids flutter for an instant, then widen, which is exactly what I want. I want to see Luis’s face contort and turn purple and I want him to know who it is who is killing him. I want to be the last face, the last thing, that Luis sees before he dies and I want to cry out, “I’m fucking Courtney. Do you hear me? I’m fucking Courtney. Ha-ha-ha,” and have these be the last words, the last sounds he hears until his own gurglings, accompanied by the crunching of his trachea, drown everything else out. Luis stares at me and I tense the muscles in my arms, preparing myself for a struggle that, disappointingly, never comes.
Instead he looks down at my wrists and for a moment wavers, as if he’s undecided about something, and then he lowers ‘his head and… kisses my left wrist, and when he looks back up at me, shyly, it’s with an expression that’s… loving and only part awkward. His right hand reaches up and tenderly touches the side of my face. I stand there, frozen, my arms still stretched out in front of me, fingers still circled around Luis’s throat.
“God, Patrick,.. he whispers. “Why here?”
His hand is playing with my hair now. I look over at the side of the stall, where someone has scratched into the paint Edwin gives marvelous head, and I’m still paralyzed in this position and gazing at the words, confused, studying the frame surrounding the words as if that contained an answer, a truth. Edwin? Edwin who? I shake my head to clear it and look back at Luis, who has this horrible, love-struck grin plastered on his face, and I try to squeeze harder, my face twisted with exertion, but I can’t do it, my hands won’t tighten, and my arms, still stretched out, look ludicrous and useless in their fixed position.
(again, my bolds)
A little later:
“I want you,” he says in a low, faggoty whisper and when I slowly turn my head to glare at him, while hunched over the sink, seething, my eye contact radiating revulsion, he adds, “too.”
I storm out of the men’s room, bumping into Brewster Whipple, I think. I smile at the maître d’ and after shaking his hand I make a run for the closing elevator but I’m too late and I cry out, pounding a fist against the doors, cursing. Composing myself, I notice the maître d’ conferring with a waiter, the two of them looking my way questioningly, and so I straighten up, smile shyly and wave at them. Luis strides over calmly, still grinning, flushed, and I just stand there and let him walk up to me. He says nothing.
“What… is… it?” I finally hiss.
“Where are you going?” he whispers, bewildered.
“I… I’ve gotta…” Stumped, I look around the crowded dining room, then back at Luis’s quivering, yearning face. “I’ve gotta return some videotapes,” I say, jabbing at the elevator button, then, my patience shot, I start to walk away and head back toward my table.
“Patrick,” he calls out.
I whirl around. “What?”
He mouths “I’ll call you” with this expression on his face that lets me know, that assures me, my “secret” is safe with him.
I think for the person Bateman tries to project himself as, the person he wants to be, his whole behaviour during the episode appears far more timid than we expect. Luis completely enfeebles him by what he does. It’s after this scene that Bateman fantasises the killing of a stereotypical gay man and his dog, then the first of the book’s pornographically explicit sex scenes.
Next is the second encounter between Carruthers and Bateman that we see in the book. It is crucial to note that just as the episodes of extreme violence in the book are invented by Bateman, there are also huge pieces of missing time. In the first scenes, there are references to a jump cut and a dissolve; at another point we go from Christmas to suddenly the start of summer.
“Well well,” I say, shaking his hand. Luis’s grip is overly firm, yet horribly sensuous at the same time. “Excuse me, I have to purchase a tie.” I wave bye-bye to baby Glenn once more and move off to inspect the neckwear in the adjoining room, wiping my hand against a two?hundred-dollar bath towel that hangs on a marble rack.
Soon enough Luis wanders over and leans against the tie drawer, pretending to examine the ties like I’m doing.
“Patrick, why won’t you look at me?” Luis asks, sounding anguished. “Look at me.”
“Please, please leave me alone, Luis,” I say, my eyes closed, both fists clenched in anger.
“Come on, let’s have a drink at Sofi’s and talk about this,” he suggests, starting to plead.
“Talk about what?” I ask incredulously, opening my eyes.
“Well… about us.” He shrugs.
“Luis,” I say, forcing myself to make eye contact. “Please leave me alone. Go away.”
“Patrick,” he says. “I love you very much. I hope you realize this.”
I find both the remarks of Carruthers and Bateman very strange; he speaks about himself and Bateman, “us”, as if they were a couple, when the last time we saw them was in the scene in the Yale Club bathroom. Equally strange is Carruthers talking about “loving” him – why has Carruthers suddenly developed such an intense attraction? The point in the reader’s mind is that Carruthers is an utter lunatic, and you expect Bateman to say this, but it never happens. At the end of this scene, we have an almost comic assertion by Bateman that yes, he is indeed straight through sex and violence:
Outside I try to wave down a cab on Fifth Avenue. Luis hurries out of the store after me.
“Patrick, we’ve got to talk,” he calls out over the roar of traffic. He runs up to me, grabbing my coat sleeve. I whirl around, my switchblade already open, and I jab it threateningly, warning Luis to stay back. People move out of our way, continue walking.
“Hey, whoa, Patrick,” he says, holding his hands up, backing off. “Patrick…”
I hiss at him, still holding out the knife until a cab I flag down skids to a stop. Luis tries to get near me, his hands still up, and I keep the knife aimed at him, slicing the air with it, while I open the door to the cab and back in, still hissing, then I close the door and tell the driver to head over to Gramercy Park, to Pooncakes.
The third encounter, where again, Bateman’s reactions are very strange for the image he projects. He is very, very frightened of Luis. Crucially, he views Luis here not as a nuisance, but a threat to his existence in the city.
At first it’s only a sense of vague uneasiness and I’m unsure of its cause, but then it feels, though I can’t be positive, as if I’m being followed, as if someone has been tracking me throughout Barney’s.
Luis Carruthers is, I suppose, incognito. He’s wearing some kind of jaguar-print silk evening jacket, deerskin gloves, a felt hat, aviator sunglasses, and he’s hiding behind a column, pretending to inspect a row of ties, and, gracelessly, he gives me a sidelong glance. Leaning down, I sign something, a bill I think, and fleetingly Luis’s presence forces me to consider that maybe a life connected to this city, to Manhattan, to my job, is not a good idea, and suddenly I imagine Luis at some horrible party, drinking a nice dry rosé, fags clustered around a baby grand, show tunes, now he’s holding a flower, now he has a feather boa draped around his neck, now the pianist bangs out something from Les Miz, darling.
I don’t think Bateman’s fear makes any sense without this hidden context. That a straight man would have to leave the city because of a gay co-worker who is in love with him makes no sense; what does make sense is if Bateman were secretly gay, had had sex with Carruthers, and felt his existence threatened if this secret came out.
“Patrick? Is that you?” I hear a tentative voice inquire.
Like a smash cut from a horror movie – a jump zoom – Luis Carruthers appears, suddenly, without warning, from behind his column, slinking and jumping at the same time, if that’s’ possible. I smile at the salesgirl, then awkwardly move away from him and over to a display case of suspenders, in dire need of a Xanax, a Valium, a Halcion, a Frozfruit, anything.
“You have distorted this obsession of yours way out of proportion. Way, way out of proportion,” I say, then move over to another aisle.
“But I know you have the same feelings I do,” Luis says, trailing me. “And I know that just because…” He lowers his voice and shrugs. “Just because you won’t admit… certain feelings you have doesn’t mean you don’t have them.”
“What are you trying to say?” I hiss.
“That I know you feel the same way I do.” Dramatically, he whips off his sunglasses, as if to prove a point.
“You have reached… an inaccurate conclusion,” I choke. “You are… obviously unsound.”
I picture Bateman filled with emotion – that he’s holding back great feeling in this encounter. I find this puzzling, if Carruthers is just a stalker, that the emotional stakes are so high.
At the same time I ask Luis to “Go away” he sobs, “Oh god, Patrick, why don’t you like me?” and then, unfortunately, he falls to the floor at my feet.
“Get up,” I mutter, standing there. “Get up.”
“Why can’t we be together?” he sobs, pounding his fist on the floor.
“Because I… don’t” – I look around the store quickly to make sure no one is listening; he reaches for my knee, I brush his hand away – “find you… sexually attractive,” I whisper loudly, staring down at him. “I can’t believe I actually said that,” I mumble to myself, to no one, and then shake my head, trying to clear it, things reaching a level of confusion that I’m incapable of registering. I tell Luis, “Leave me alone, please,” and I start to walk away.
Again, I’m befuddled by Bateman’s reaction here – that he speaks of sexual attraction. The line you expect from Bateman, a heterosexual alpha male, or any heterosexual male for that matter, is quite clearly “Because I’m not gay”. But this is not what he says – perhaps because Luis would be able to state clearly that it’s not true. And, again, the intensity of the moment – that there is such a level of confusion.
Finally, there are two men who show up mutely in the book for apparently no reason at all, though they make sense given the context of Bateman’s secret life.
There is this encounter with Paul Denton at Harry’s Bar. There is no mention of him before or after this scene, and no explanation is ever offered of his behaviour. I don’t think the quotes require any further elaboration.
“Hello, men,” Owen says and he introduces the two guys he’s with, Trent Moore and someone named Paul Denton.
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.
Before they leave, Denton looks over at our table, at me, one last time, and he seems panicked, convinced of something by my presence, as if he recognized me from somewhere, and this, in turn, freaks me out.
A briefly glimpsed older man named George Levanter in one of the last scenes in the book, where he breaks up with Evelyn, which is preceded by a reference to the ’80s “Silence = Death” public service campaign on AIDS.
“What are all these T-shirts I’ve been seeing?” she asks. “All over the city? Have you seen them? Silkience Equals Death? Are people having problems with their conditioners or something? Am I missing something? What were we talking about?”
“No, that’s absolutely wrong. It’s Science Equals Death.” I sigh, close my eyes.
“Jesus, Evelyn, only you could confuse that and a hair product.” I have no idea what the hell I’m saying but I nod, waving to someone at the bar, an older man, his face covered in shadow, someone I only half know, actually, but he manages to raise his champagne glass my way and smile back, which is a relief.
“Who’s that?” I hear Evelyn asking.
“He’s a friend of mine,” I say.
“I don’t recognize him,” she says. “P & P?”
“Forget it,” I sigh.
“Who is it, Patrick?” she asks, more interested in my reluctance than in an actual name.
“Why?” I ask back.
“Who is it?” she asks. “Tell me.”
“A friend of mine,” I say, teeth gritted.
“Who, Patrick?” she asks, then, squinting, “Wasn’t he at my Christmas party?”
“No, he was not,” I say, my hands drumming the tabletop.
“Isn’t it… Michael J. Fox?” she asks, still squinting. “The actor?”
“Hardly,” I say, then, fed up, “Oh for Christ sakes, his name is George Levanter and no, he didn’t star in The Secret of My Success.”
One last, possibly relevant, detail – Bateman appears to be so used to having sex with a condom without spermicide, so used to it that he doesn’t have any when he has sex with Courtney – this would be expected if he were most frequently partnering with men. The Evian, I think, is the old reliable phallic symbol. The language here is very explicit.
“Yeah,” I say, moving on top of her, sliding my dick gracefully into her cunt, kissing her on the mouth hard, pushing into her with long fast strokes, my cock, my hips crazed, moving on their own desirous momentum, already my orgasm builds from the base of my balls, my asshole, coming up through my cock so stiff that it aches – but then in mid?kiss I lift my head up, leaving her tongue hanging out of her mouth starting to lick her own red swollen lips, and while still humping but lightly now I realize there… is… a… problem of sorts but I cannot think of what it is right now… but then it hits me while I’m staring at the half-empty bottle of Evian water on the nightstand and I gasp “Oh shit” and pull out.
“What?” Courtney moans. “Did you forget something?”
“Patrick what are you doing?” she calls from the bedroom.
“I’m looking for the water-soluble spermicidal lubricant,” I call back.
“Oh my god,” she cries out. “You didn’t have any on?”
“Courtney,” I call back, noticing a small razor nick above my lip. “Where is it?”
“What do you mean – where is it?” she calls out. “Didn’t you have it with you?”
He is so unused to using spermicide that he doesn’t have the right condom for it:
“Wait,” she gasps.
“What?” I moan, puzzled but almost there.
“Luis is a despicable twit,” she gasps, trying to push me out of her.
“Yes,” I say, leaning on top of her, tonguing her ear. “Luis is a despicable twit. I hate him too,” and now, spurred on by her disgust for her wimp boyfriend, I start moving faster, my climax approaching.
“No, you idiot,” she groans. “I said Is it a receptacle tip? Not ‘Is Luis a despicable twit.’ Is it a receptacle tip? Get off me.”
“Is what a what?” I moan.
“Pull out,” she groans, struggling.
I reach over and flip on the halogen Tensor.
“It’s a plain end, see?” I say. “So?”
“Take it off,” she says curtly.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because you have to leave half an inch at the tip,” she says, covering her breasts with the Hermès comforter, her voice rising, her patience shot, “to catch the force of the ejaculate!”
The scene ends with this telling line:
“I want to fuck you again,” I tell her, “but I don’t want to wear a condom because I don’t feel anything,” and she says calmly, taking her mouth off my limp shrunken dick, glaring at me, “If you don’t use one you’re not going to feel anything anyway.”
Bateman never has satisfying sexual relations with women – except in his fantasies, where they have the rote step by step quality of pornography.
With Evelyn at the beginning:
“You’re evil,” she says, slightly excited, running her hands along my broad, hard shoulder.
“No,” I sigh. “Just your fiancé.”
After attempting to have sex with her for around fifteen minutes, I decide not to continue trying.
Describing what happens when they are at Price’s house:
I really tried to make things work the weeks we were out there. Evelyn and I rode bicycles and jogged and played tennis. We talked about going to the south of France or to Scotland; we talked about driving through Germany and visiting unspoiled opera houses. We went windsurfing. We talked about only romantic things: the light on eastern Long Island, the moonrise in October over the hills of the Virginia hunt country. We took baths together in the big marble tubs. We had breakfast in bed, snuggling beneath cashmere blankets after I’d poured imported coffee from a Melior pot into Hermès cups. I woke her up with fresh flowers. I put notes in her Louis Vuitton carry bag before she left for her weekly facials in Manhattan. I bought her a puppy, a small black chow, which she named NutraSweet and fed dietetic chocolate trues to. I read long passages aloud from Doctor Zhivago and A Farewell to Arms (my favorite Hemingway). I rented movies in town that Price didn’t own, mostly comedies from the 1930s, and played them on one of the many VCRs, our favorite being Roman Holiday, which we watched twice. We listened to Frank Sinatra (only his 1950s period) and Nat King Cole’s After Midnight, which Tim had on CD. I bought her expensive lingerie, which sometimes she wore.
After skinny-dipping in the ocean late at night, we would come into the house, shivering, draped in huge Ralph Lauren towels, and we’d make omelets and noodles tossed with olive oil and truffles and porcini mushrooms; we’d make soufflés with poached pears and cinnamon fruit salads, grilled polenta with peppered salmon, apple and berry sorbet, mascarpone, red beans with arrozo wrapped in romaine lettuce, bowls of salsa and skate poached in balsamic vinegar, chilled tomato soup and risottos flavored with beets and lime and asparagus and mint, and we drank lemonade or champagne or well-aged bottles of Château Margaux.
There seems just one strange absense of a young couple together in this setting – he never mentions once them making love.
For no reason given, it all goes wrong:
But soon we stopped lifting weights together and wing laps and Evelyn would eat only the dietetic chocolate trues that NutraSweet hadn’t eaten, complaining about weight she hadn’t gained. Some nights I would find my self roaming the beaches, digging up baby crabs and eating handfuls of sand – this was in the middle of the night when the sky was so clear I could see the entire solar system and the sand, lit by it, seemed almost lunar in scale. I even dragged a beached jellyfish back to the house and microwaved it early one morning, predawn, while Evelyn slept, and what I didn’t eat of it I fed to the chow.
Evelyn soon started talking only about spas and cosmetic surgery and then she hired a masseur, some scary faggot who lived down the road with a famous book publisher and who flirted openly with me.
Other aspects of Bateman’s life overlap with the next few posts.