American Psycho may be a lot of things – a remarkable exploration of the gap between self-perception and external recognition, a metaphor for the grotesque imbalance between rich and poor and the exploitative conditions that support such an imbalance, an exercise in reader self-reflection – but it is not a book that ought to be banned (have yet to encounter a book, really, in the banned books category that makes me seriously reconsider my stance on no-banning-of-books). Above all it is a book that thoughtfully explores the possibilities presented by narrative point of view.
With the notable exception of a half dozen pages in a climactic scene the novel is narrated in the first person point of view of Patrick Bateman a wall street worker (of some kind) and psychopathic killer (maybe). Whether or not Patrick actually kills anyone is a question I don’t have an easy answer for, though the novel certainly details the rape, torture and murder of many, many men, women and (one) child. How can it be that the novel could narrate these events but I still be unsure whether they actually took place? Such is the marvel of the untrustworthy and “mad” narration. Patrick interweaves his descriptions of torture with his obsessive (really obsessive) descriptions of what people wear, where he has eaten, when Les Miserable will be playing and how long he has worked out for. The imbalance among what Patrick thinks about, how he describes himself behaving, and how others react to his behaviour alert the reader to a consequential disconnect between the ways Patrick describes himself and “reality” as it is experienced by those around him. That this gap describes how every individual reader operates in the world should go without saying, but the novel does a spectacular job of highlighting in the extreme how detrimental and alienating this fissure must be. That we ought to spend more time listening to one another and more time trying to explain how we understand the world isn’t the solution offered by Ellis; rather, I think the book gets at the tragedy – the real horror – that we must all experience the world alone, from our particular (insane) point of view.
That the book includes scenes of extreme violence is interesting because these chapters precede exceptionally dull chapters recounting Patrick’s review of the body of work of artists like Whitney Housten. The result? This reader *skipped* the dull chapters on album reviews in order to return to the (truly) captivating narration of Patrick’s life. What does this desire to return to the horrific over the banal say about this reader? Well, it really is a most impressive point of view.