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Loricat

Bret Easton Ellis - Lunar Park

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I am a Bret Ellis fan and have read 5 of his 6 novels and immensely enjoyed 4 of them. I've never hated one of his books and was only mildly disappointed by Rules of Attraction which I found utterly pointless, but funny, when I read it back in the 80s. I've taken a bit of flack over the years for liking Ellis from friends who consider him and his writing shallow and worthless -- but he's still one of my favorite writers and news that he's written a book never fails to fill me with glee. :-P

 

What I like about his writing style is best captured in the spare and atmospheric Less Than Zero where everything manages to be said in short concise sentences and picturesque prose that doesn't seem to go anywhere yet acutely gets its point across. And being a Los Angeles native, and living in the San Fernando Valley for the last 25 years where Ellis grew up and where parts of his stories often take place, doesn't hurt in terms of making his work appeal to me on a personal level.

 

As for Lunar Park, what I like about the book is that it is a horror story. Something that took me by surprise since I avoided reviews about the novel before I purchased it. I didn't even bother to read the book jacket. I knew it was an Ellis novel and I was reading it -- that's all it took to pique my interest.

 

So when I discovered the story revolved around supernatural events including a haunted house, a designer toy bird called The Terby that comes to life ala Chucky to threaten the lives of Ellis and his family, the disappearance of several young boys, a series of violent murders that occur in Ellis' community and what appears to be the literal haunting of the author by his dead father and fictional characters he's created in his previous novels - I was thrilled. I don't often read horror, but it's one of my favorite genres, and I was delighted to discover this book was inspired by the writings of Stephen King.

 

As far as horror stories go, this one is engaging if predictable and ridiculous at times, and often pays homage to horror movie cliches, which I found both funny and occasionally frustrating. However, the novel worked best for me because of its horror aspects as opposed to its back story that is much more about the author's failing marriage to a well known actress and his move to suburbia in a futile and pathetic attempt to have a normal life; his move away from the fame, unreality and immaturity that has consumed his life as a famous author and the writer of controversial novels like American Psycho.

 

This is the story of how Bret Ellis reinvents himself from the infant boy prince to the mature man and father real life demands him to be, a maturation that has eluded him because he has deliberately avoided it out of a loathing and fear of his own father, an abusive, angry alcoholic who was the basis of his serial killer character, Patrick Bateman, in American Psycho and to whom Lunar Park is partly dedicated to.

 

What I didn't like about this book is that it's written from the point of view of Bret Ellis himself. He is the main character, and the novel attempts to blur the line between the real Ellis and the protagonist Ellis. I didn't object to the book being written in this style, but the fictional Ellis was so darn unlikeable that I had a hard time dealing with the style.

 

Because of the difficult narrative style, I think the novel will mostly appeal to already established Ellis fans, even though it's his most accessible novel. The most positive thing I can think to say about this is that the book -- while horribly self preoccupied - manages to transcend this just by being an engaging horror story and a legitimate exploration of the shadows and unresolved guilts and complexes that make up your average, male, American mind.

 

However, the fictional Ellis is so detestable, it put me off and I'm sure it would put off those less thrilled with Ellis to the point where they could not get beyond this. In the past I could enjoy his descriptions of vapid, self obsessed twits because the writer was laughing at them and it was understood it took an insightful and intelligent narrator with an above average intellect to be able to so perfectly satirize these types of annoying losers. But for some reason, having the narrator (who in this case is Bret Ellis) be the vapid twit is not funny or appealing. It's just obnoxious, and while never dull, it rather repelled me and kept me from enjoying the novel as much as I might have.

 

In this book, some of the obsession with the hard, cold surface of things that permeates all of Ellis' other novels is tempered by a sentimental, forgiving, even schmaltzy Ellis who is genuinely reflective instead of merely detached. In Lunar Park he is surrounded by the trappings of everyday life in an everyday world (despite the horror) instead of off partying in ridiculously superficial and "glamorous" surroundings, and this is appealing even if it never really goes far enough, never probes deep enough to cause any major revelations.

 

This new Ellis viewpoint manages to make the reader feel something with well written prose and insights about feeling nothing and being nothing and being unable to take anything seriously. Ironically, through a distant, inaccessible, even detestable egotistical narrator you are taken on a journey of self exploration into the depths of your darker emotions just by being confronted with page after page of vapid, hollow meanderings by the character. The effect achieved is a sense of meaning about the unmeaningful, an understanding of what it means to be numb and why this is important instead of merely being numb and conveying nothing.

 

I think this book is probably Ellis' best written novel, and although not my favorite, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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Excellent review, Loricat! I was interested that you were most happy with the horror story aspect and least happy with the Ellis-as-himself aspect. I think for me it would have been reversed. As you say, though, it's a book probably best reserved for those who are already familiar with Ellis's work, as the opening 50 pages, with its resume of his career and life, and the way it gleefully plays with and twists what we know about Ellis's life (a gay man, suddenly married?) and books. I thought that opening section was as brilliant as anything he's written, and as funny as the opening third of Glamorama.

 

Frankly I was also pleased that Lunar Park never got to be as stomach-churning as Glamorama or American Psycho. As for not liking the fictional Ellis, as a fan of his earlier books surely you're used to unlikeable characters - in fact has he ever written about a sympathetic or likeable protagonist?? I don't think that just because the main character is called Bret Easton Ellis, that makes him any more similar to the author than Victor Ward or Patrick Bateman. And although Ellis has, as you say, in the past mercilessly skewered the vain, shallow and pretentious people who 'slide down the surface of things', I've always felt that a good part of him actually quietly loved it too, and that the satire was coming from an affectionate angle rather than a vicious one. So that he should choose to include himself in it this time is not that surprising.

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