Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Horror of Bret Easton Ellis in "Lunar Park"

(This interview appeared in the Denver Post in September 2005)

By Dylan Foley

“I made it easy for everyone, it’s all made up,” said writer Bret Easton Ellis of his new book “Lunar Park”(Knopf, $25). “It’s a novel, not a memoir,” he said of a ghost story that is narrated by an alcoholic and drug-using writer named Bret Easton Ellis.

As the novel opens, a freshly sober writer named Ellis is living in a McMansion in a fictional suburb outside New York City with a movie star wife and two children. All is not going well for Ellis in the novel--he is haunted by the ghost of his brutal father and a local serial killer in acting out the murders from Ellis’ 1991 gorefest “American Psycho.”

“I had spent 10 years working on an outline about a writer very much like myself,” said Ellis, from his high-ceilinged New York City condo. “He was a fictional writer who had written fictional books, one about a serial killer. He’d had hard times, drug and alcohol problems, and had fathered an 11-year-old boy. Something was stopping me from writing the book. Then I thought, this guy has similarities to you, why don’t you make him you?”

Ellis has written a book that takes the truth, lies and myth about the enfant terrible writer Bret Easton Ellis to create a griping, tragicomic story of a writer on a downward spiral. “Lunar Park” works because Ellis has such an excellent sense of humor about himself and his self-destructive past. It starts as a satirical take on American suburbs, where every man, woman, child and dog seems to be on antianxiety medication, and moves into a horror story where a writer is being pursued by the physical manifestations of his own bloodthirsty literary creations. “Lunar Park” is a lush, mature novel that is also a good frothy read full of gossip and blood.

For Ellis, putting himself in the book let him dig up him demons. “The minute I made the choice to put myself in the book, the writing of the book became very meaningful to me,” said Ellis, a boyish 41-year old with a cocked baseball hat on his head. “It became a strange exorcism for me. I resolved a lot of stuff about my dad and other issues that I had. By the end of the book, something had lifted.”

By making himself the novel’s main character, Ellis may be giving more ammunition to his critics. “Once I inserted my name in the novel, I started fooling around with the reality and the myth of Bret Easton Ellis, whatever ridiculous thing that is,” he said. “I thought to myself this will really anger my detractors. Some people might say I was trying to hide myself or promote myself, or I’m a total narcissist. I was just having fun.”

Ellis was liberal with the fiction and facts in his new novel. He’s never been married to a movie star and has no illegitimate 11-year-old son. He does, however, review his actual 20-year run-ins with drugs and the media.

Readers can’t miss the possibility that the survivors from “Less Than Zero,” his stark 1985 debut novel of Los Angeles rich kids disappearing into a haze of drugs, have traded in their cocaine for antidepressants and now drink expensive whiskey in their custom suburban houses. “Didn’t that happen to everyone?” said Ellis of the decadent New York and Los Angeles scenesters who had kids and moved out of the big cities. “The edgy kids I knew at Bennington are now suburban moms and dad. I would hope that no one has any qualms about. That’s just life.”

The action in the book opens at a Halloween party at Ellis’ home. Losing his battle with sobriety, the fictional Ellis drinks vodka like a fish and snorts cocaine. Despite a four-month-old marriage, Ellis is trying to sleep with a nubile woman student from the local college where he teaches. A parade of famous names from the 1980s makes cameos--bad boy writer Jay McInerney snorts coke with Ellis and famed literary agent Binky Urban tries to get him screenplay work with the ever-dull actor Harrison Ford.

Strange things are happening in the novel. His stepdaughter’s mechanical doll starts attacking people and animals and his expensive home is morphing into the suburban California ranch house he grew up in. His father, who was the inspiration for serial killer Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho,” makes his presence known as an unsettled ghost.

Though the brand names and social satire are less present than in “American Psycho,” the fictional Bret drives a Range Rover and a soccer mom flirting with him has a smile that’s a “Klonopin rictus,” a reference to a popular antianxiety drug that many of the adults are taking in the novel.

Returning to “American Psycho” for the new novel was unsettling for Ellis. Though he enjoyed rereading the book, which he hadn’t read since 1991, he found it very brutal to go through. “Something I regretted was the violence,” Ellis said, cringing a bit. “I was a punky, nihilistic kid when I wrote those scenes. They came out effortlessly. The violence was really hardcore and I had to steel myself to read them. I got why people were outraged. Would I do it differently? I can’t do that.

“’American Psycho’ haunts me and it will be on my gravestone. That’s why it is such an important part of ‘Lunar Park.’ The writer in the novel is haunted by everything--his father, the things that he wrote.”

To bring about closure, Ellis finally dealt with his real father’s angry ghost, whose ashes had sat in a California bank since 1992, when he died.

“My father’s ashes were kept in a safe deposit box for a long time,” said Ellis with a steady gaze. “It was only after I finished the book this year that we spread them where he wanted them spread.”

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