BY MARTIN KICH
This one is timely in a very macabre way:
Ellis, Bret Easton. American Psycho. New York: Knopf, 1991.
Brett Easton Ellis became an almost instant literary celebrity when his first novel, Less than Zero (1985), sold millions of copies and was adapted to a film released by Twentieth-Century Fox. Grouped with novelists such as Jay McInerney, Douglas Coupland, and Tama Janowitz, Ellis was immediately burdened with the label of being one of the “voices” of the post-baby-boom generation, the so-called Generation X. Unlike those other novelists, Ellis has charted a perversely eccentric course in the novels he has published since the 1980s.
A deadpan narrative of the atrocities committed by a yuppie serial killer named Patrick Bateman, American Psycho provoked tremendous controversy even before it was published. Having advanced Ellis $300,000 on his next novel, Simon and Schuster refused to publish American Psycho, preferring to write off the advance than to deal with the escalating animus toward the book. Knopf’s Sonny Mehta then purchased the rights to the novel—an act described as courageous by some but mercenary by many others. A pre-publication review in the New York Times was run under the headline: “Don’t Buy This Book.” Feminists denounced Ellis as a misogynist. Other reviewers charged that Ellis had tried to resurrect a flagging career by producing an unconscionably self-indulgent novel in which the cold narcissism of the characters in his previous works is extended to a sociopathic nonchalance toward the suffering of the protagonist’s victims.
Despite all of the controversy, which might have doomed the novel to being little more than a passing sensation, American Psycho has remained in print since its original publication. By the release of Ellis’ Lunar Park in mid-2005, American Psycho had sold more than 600,000 copies, never selling fewer than 20,000 copies as a backlist title.
Dunne, John Gregory. True Confessions. New York: Dutton, 1977.
An accomplished novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and memoirist, John Gregory Dunne was a pro who seldom wrote anything that was not worth reading. One could argue that his diverse talents and interests kept him from achieving the stature of a major figure in any of the genres in which he wrote. Certainly True Confessions is a remarkable novel that uses the form and conventions of the mystery novel to explore themes typically associated with “serious” fiction.
The novel focuses on the strained relationship between two Irish-American brothers. Des Spellacy is a politically savvy priest who has made himself indispensable as the bishop’s problem-solver and is clearly being groomed for high church office. Des has trained himself to keep everything close to the vest(ments), but his practiced inscrutability has gradually brought him dangerously close to self-serving rationalizations of some of the less savory deals he has engineered on behalf of the diocese. In contrast, Tom Spellacy is a police detective whose volatile temperament and willingness to accept a certain level of corruption has seemingly stalled his career and compromised his character. Dunne transforms the tensions between these two brothers into a microcosm of the struggle for the soul of Irish-America. Interestingly, the crime seemingly at the center of the novel’s plot, the infamous Black Dahlia mutilation-murder, becomes more a mechanism for accessing the novel’s broader themes than the true focus of the story.
True Confessions was adapted to a film of the same name, starring Robert DeNiro as Des Spellacy and Robert Duvall as Tom Spellacy. The screenplay was written by Dunne and his wife Joan Didion, whose collaborations on a number of screenplays, in particular for Up Close and Personal (1996), would become the subject of Dunne’s acerbic memoir, Monster: Living Off the Big Screen (1997).
Previous Posts in This Series:
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/24/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-1-2/.
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 3-4: https://academeblog.org/2015/07/02/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-3-4/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 5-6: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/07/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-5-6/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 7-8: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/11/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-7-8/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 9-10: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/18/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-9-10/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 11-12: https://academeblog.org/2015/09/19/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-11-12/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 13-14: https://academeblog.org/2015/11/15/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-13-14/.
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 15-16: https://academeblog.org/2016/01/09/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-15-16/.
The final post in each series is followed by links to all of the previous posts in that series.
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/
America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/02/13370/