Friday, August 27, 2010

Imperial Bedrooms, by Bret Easton Ellis

There’s a reason fans of noir enjoy Ellis so much: his work is often bleak, brutal, and uncompromising. Over the course of his career, he’s experimented with minimalism, and Imperial Bedrooms finds him at his leanest.
In some ways this book brings Ellis full-circle, re-visiting the central characters of his first novel, Less Than Zero, some twenty-odd years ago, but to call Imperial Bedrooms a sequel isn’t quite right, as the tone and subject matter are completely different, as different as the life of a middle-aged narcissist is from the life of a vacuous twenty-something. Bedrooms is, in some ways, a crime novel, but infected with a strangely post-modern (yeah, I said post-modern) surrealism.
Clay, the self-obsessed pretty-boy of Less Than Zero, is now a self-obsessed middle-aged screenwriter recently returned to Hollywood to cast his latest film. He’s almost immediately drawn back into the sordid world of his old friends and lovers, meets a superficially gorgeous young actress who is clearly using him as much as he’s using her.
But some of his acquaintances are involved in something big and ugly and dangerous, and when Clay begins getting threatening text messages and spotting a mysterious black vehicle parked in front of his building, he begins a downward spiral of violence and paranoia. Old friends wind up dead. New friends begin acting shiftily. And Clay begins to realize that his own life could be forfeit in a game where there are no rules.
If that synopsis sounds vague, well… it is. The plot of Imperial Bedrooms doesn’t hinge on concrete events so much as gradual stumbles downward into… what? There are no real answers in this book, just as the questions themselves are only half-formed. The real story is Clay’s ever-increasing paranoia and unreliability as a narrator, back dropped against a strange and uncertain version of L.A. and populated by a cast of characters that slink through his life like sinister shadows. The lines between what’s real and imagined become increasingly thin-- hinted at in even the first chapter, when Clay tells us about the movie Less Than Zero, based only loosely on the “real events”.
Imperial Bedrooms is an uneasy book, and Ellis is his usual fearless self. Recommended.

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