I Know What You Bought Last Summer
Brett Easton Ellis
Alfred A. Knopf
The pleasurable tension of a Bret Easton Ellis novel lies between what it seems to be (a laundry list of luxury products) and what he must intend it to be (a searing indictment of a materialist culture). Does B.E.E. intend to castigate a puerile, shopping-crazed America, or does he just personify it?
Essaying the Age of Terror, B.E.E. has found an exquisitely terrifying genre of Stuff to Enumerate: kiddie items. In his new Lunar Park, a coke-, booze- and Xanax-stuffed writer named Bret Easton Ellis leaves his chic bisexual pill-popping lifestyle for a house in the exurbs, shared with a warm and apparently sexless Ashley Judd-type movie star. There, to his horror and ours, B.E.E. is able not to rattle off the brand names of high-priced appliances (as in American Psycho) or C-list celebs bounding into B-list nightclubs (as in Glamorama), but is confronted by...Harry Potter merch. Shrek-shaped Halloween costumes. Mini-Blackberries and Pilates mats for two-year-olds. And pills, above all pills, antidepressants, anti-anxieties, anti-A.D.D.s, all aimed at the grade-school set, but potent enough to set the pseudo-sober Brat Pack lit star to drooling.
By the time Bret, haunted by images of his abusive father, hunkers down in his Security-Mom-and-Soccer-Dad household, ghostly winds blow, icky scratching noises ensue, and B.E.E. gets e-mails from the Bank of America late at 2:40 a.m., the exact moment of his father's death! There's also a student at the college where B.E.E. teaches who seems to be performing a series of copycat murders in the style of American Psycho. As the various scare-novel accoutrements unfold, a deeper mystery arises. Is B.E.E. creating a portrait of fear-crazed America in the schlocky shape of an I Know What You Did Last Summer thriller? (I hope so. I think so.) Or is he just creating a schlocky I Know What You Did... thriller in the hopes of getting a limited series out of it on FX, with maybe Rob Lowe as B.E.E.? (I fear so. I think maybe.) Ellis the craftsman works overtime, synthesizing elements from The Shining (the writer who may be authoring his family's deaths), Cujo (doggie run amok), The Lost Boys (teen-abductee homoerotica), and every serial-killer movie ever made (the notion of the mass murderer as life coach and spiritual guru). He even offers some ontological mysteries out of Mulholland Drive. But does he "know what he's doing," or is he just schlock-mongering? Is he a pitch-perfect critic of vapidity, or a victim of the vapors? Intentionally or not, B.E.E., as per usual, perfectly captures the zeitgeist: a world in which our deepest terrors as privileged Americans seem about as fresh and as real as the screams coming out of some teen bikini chick in a late-night TNT showing of Witchboard IV.
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