He's the kind of writer you want to hate. The 1985 publication of Bret Easton Ellis' debut novel, a depiction of wealthy, nihilistic Los Angeles teens called Less than Zero, brought the then-21-year-old author a level of success most novelists only dream about.
Ellis' career was bolstered again after his controversial third novel, American Psycho, was transformed into the cult film in 2000 starring Christian Bale. In his latest and arguably best novel, Lunar Park, Ellis turns his satirist's eye toward the suburbs before subtly morphing his novel into an all-out supernatural thriller. Another twist in the genre-defying tome? Its narrator is a novelist named Bret Easton Ellis. The author spoke to WW last week via phone from Los Angeles about fame, midlife changes and Katie Couric.
WW: How would you summarize Lunar Park?
Bret Easton Ellis: The only thing I can say is that it's a ghost story, a haunted-house book.
What struck me about the first half of the novel was the depth of the commentary on suburbs and family life.
When I started out writing this book, I wasn't going to write a satirical take on the suburbs-that just sort of entered into the outline that I had been working on for about 10 years. While it was on the back burner, a lot of things happened-friends got married, had kids and my father died. All of these elements started entering into what I thought was going to be a fun, genre-based book.
Because Lunar Park mixes your biography with the main story, some reviews-like A.O. Scott's in The New York Times-criticize you personally instead of what's on the page.
And he was reviewing what he wanted me to be, and what I wasn't-and he did not like that. The way I am perceived through the press, my friends don't recognize me when they read about me. They don't know who that is. At 21, I died. The real Bret was gone, and this fake Bret took over. I think that happens when you become famous or a well-known person.
Do you feel more protective of your life with all the press you receive?
I feel much less protective now than I did before. That's a product of middle age and a midlife crisis-I really just don't care anymore. I'm just going to say whatever the hell I want to say. When everyone was saying, "Oh my God, Tom Cruise, he's so fucking nuts! Look at him, he's going totally crazy!" I was going, "Oh my God, I totally relate to him. I totally get it." When I was on the Today show last week, I wanted to tell Katie Couric, "Katie, you know nothing about publishing. Nothing about publishing. I know about publishing. You're being very glib."
Well, it is Katie Couric-I would have just slapped her.
She was such a bitch to me, I couldn't believe it. She didn't like me, anyway-we all thought that Matt Lauer was going to do the interview, but then he went to Iraq. So she was really pissed that she had to do the interview, and she was fidgeting-she actually took her glasses off while I was answering a question and said, "Oh, my glasses are so dirty! What's going on?" And I was thinking, "Ugh. Let's just get this over with."
I guess that's the double-edged sword of fame-most authors don't get to go on the Today show. Does having such a large built-in audience change your approach to writing?
If I cared about that kind of stuff, I'd write books that my mom likes. Because she would like me to write a book that she would like, but I haven't done that yet.
You mentioned a midlife crisis before. Have you picked up that Ferrari yet?
I'm eyeing it every day, but I haven't gotten it yet.
Even though most people associate you with New York, you've been in Los Angeles for the past year and a half. That's the kind of place where people wouldn't notice a midlife crisis-lots of middle-aged guys date blondes in their 20s there.
I know. I was one of them for 19 months. I was the sleazy bachelor that I always knew was lurking within me. I was dating totally inappropriate people. I was a ludicrous middle-aged man that I never thought I was going to be. But it happens to you, and you have no control over it. When I was young, I thought I was never, ever going to be that guy. But then you are. It's scary.
Ellis reads from
at 7:30 pm Wednesday, Sept. 7, at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. Free.