White by Bret Easton Ellis (2.5 out of 5). Hardcover, 288 pages. Deckle Edge. Publication Date 4/16/2019.
Isaac Chotiner has really been on fire lately with his interviews. His piece on Bret Easton Ellis that dropped this past week for The New Yorker is on some other shit. He has a real knack for handing his subjects a rope, sitting back and watching them expertly tie it into a noose and place it around their own necks. I think this is required reading before we get into my review of White.
Sidenote: I did submit my own interview questions for the publisher to pass along to Mr. Ellis (as per requested). I have yet to receive any answers back. Read the Chotiner interview here: https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/bret-easton-ellis-thinks-youre-overreacting-to-donald-trump
Bret Easton Ellis latest, White, is a non-fiction collection of essays that are “a sustained howl of displeasure aimed at liberal hand-wringers, people obsessively concerned with racism, and everyone who has not gotten over Donald Trump’s election.” It is also part messy memoir and part rambling, unfocused social commentary blog post.
Full disclosure, I am a Bret Easton Ellis fan. The best version of any of his works was Mary Harron’s adaptation of American Psycho. If you haven’t read it, the novel American Psycho has Trump in it. And not in a particularly good way. I digress.
After reading White, I’m trying to figure out who the audience is for this novel. Maybe I’m painting with too broad a brush, but he’s alienated the people most likely to read it, and the rest of them wouldn’t read it in the first place.
Ellis makes it pretty obvious-in the Chotiner interview, the book, his podcast, etc. that he is not interested in politics, just the reaction. Once he said he doesn’t actually give a shit about what he wrote…well then, why should I?
The point is self-contradictory. How can he evaluate the appropriate level of reaction if he can’t be bothered to think about what people are reacting to?
It’s like watching Godzilla and saying that all of the people running around screaming are acting silly. Running around and screaming are usually silly, but not when Godzilla comes to town.
He can laugh at both sides because he is above it all. However when pressed he neither has the conviction or knowledge to stand up to the smallest amount of scrutiny and is instead just in love with the idea of being special enough to be contrarian.
Ellis has wanted to affect a Warholian vagueness, and a too-cool-for school dead-eyed nihilism. fashionably dead inside. Everyone else is a square for caring so much, or about anything. A wannabe Gore Vidal v.2.0 in the eyes of the public without doing any of the actual work of thinking hard and long on politics and society. For the past 20+ years he’s been consumed (sadly, I’d say) by the entertainment industry. By now it’s just boring to anyone who isn’t him.
White was just there to me. On one hand, there are things that I can see his point of view on. Especially when he waxes nostalgic about classic cinema, our disposable arts culture and the idea that everyone needs to think for themselves. On the other hand, It’s difficult to be offended by Ellis even when he’s trying very hard to be offensive. And with not enough good bits. Vanilla. Maybe, White claims that it’s satire because no one would seriously write like this. No, no, no…it’s not satire. He’s way over that and going straight on to meta. You’re just too dim to keep up.
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