Imperial Bedrooms, by Bret Easton Ellis
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)
"Bret Easton Ellis's debut, Less Than Zero, is one of the signal novels of the last thirty years, and he now follows those infamous teenagers into a more desperate middle age.
"Clay, a successful screenwriter, has returned from New York to Los Angeles to help cast his new movie, and he's soon drifting through a long-familiar circle. Blair, his former girlfriend, is married to Trent, an influential manager who's still a bisexual philanderer, and their Beverly Hills parties attract various levels of fame, fortune, and power. Then there's Clay's childhood friend Julian, a recovering addict, and their old dealer, Rip, face-lifted beyond recognition and seemingly even more sinister than in his notorious past.
"But Clay's own demons emerge once he meets a gorgeous young actress determined to win a role in his movie. And when his life careens completely out of control, he has no choice but to plumb the darkest recesses of his character and come to terms with his proclivity for betrayal."
"They had made a movie about us. The movie was based on a book written by someone we knew."
I've never read Less Than Zero, nor have I seen the movie it inspired. And frankly, after finishing Imperial Bedrooms, I'm not particularly inclined to do so. I've read and enjoyed books with unlikeable characters, even anti-heroes, before, but this ain't one of 'em.
The good, only because I feel compelled to say something positive about a novel heralded with such fanfare: Ellis's run-on sentences do succeed in creating the fast-paced, disorienting mood he seems to be striving for. An example, chosen purely by opening the book at random, is as follows:
"At Dan Tana's we're seated in the front room next to a booth of young actors and Rain tries to engage me, her foot rubbing against my ankle, and after a few drinks I mellow into acceptance even though a guy at the bar keeps glancing at Rain and for some reason I keep thinking he's the guy I saw her with in the parking lot at Bristol Farms, his arm in a sling, and then I realize I passed him on the bridge at the Hotel Bel-Air when I went to see Blair, and Rain's talking about the best way to approach the producer and director of The Listeners in terms of hiring her and how we need to do this carefully and that it's 'superimportant' she gets the part because so much is riding on this for her and I'm zoning out on other things but I keep glancing back at the guy leaning against the bar and he's with a friend and they both look like they stepped out of a soap opera and then I suddenly have to interrupt her."I wish I could say that's exceptional but it's not. Annoying sometimes, yes, but I'll allow it as a deliberate literary technique.
What I can't get past, though, is the sheer, shallow, repulsiveness of the characters. Perhaps if I'd read Less Than Zero I'd feel some attachment to someone here, know some back story to make me care who lives or dies ... but I hadn't, and I didn't. I've said many times that any self-respecting sequel needs to work as a stand-alone novel, even if you know nothing about its predecessor, and Imperial Bedrooms fails on that score (if, indeed, LTZ was more engaging or the characters more likeable than I found them here). That, plus the fact that Clay is a sadistic rapist without even enough motive or complexity to be compelling in a Hannibal Lechter sort of way ... well, let's just say I'm glad the book was fast-paced and not all that long.