I’m almost done with Less Than Zero, or as twitter would call it <0. That, incidentally, is the emoticon for doing a lot of coke and generally being displeased with the riches of modern life.
I decided to buy <0 after reading the Bret Easton Ellis interview in the Paris Review. I had half-heartedly read American Psycho two years ago, while I got all the stuff about the emptiness of Manhattan life in the 80s, the gore did not appeal to me, and I did not take it seriously. But I decided to give <0 a serious try, because in his interview, Bret Easton Ellis comes off as a serious writer:
Regardless of how my books have turned out, or how some people might have read them, I clearly don’t think I write trendy knockoffs. My books have all been very deeply felt. You don’t spend eight years of your life working on a trendy knockoff. In that sense I’ve been serious. But I don’t do lots of things that other serious writers do. I don’t write book reviews. I don’t sit on panels about the state of the novel. I don’t go to writer conferences. I don’t teach writing seminars. I don’t hang out at Yaddo or MacDowell. I’m not concerned with my reputation as a writer or where I stand relative to other writers. I’m not competitive or professionally ambitious. I don’t think about my work and my career in an overarching and systematic way. I don’t think about myself, as I think most other writers do, as professing toward some ideal of greatness. There’s no grand plan. All I know is that I write the books I want to write. All that other stuff is meaningless to me.
I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, and I’ve been reading bits of <0 in the middle of what should be a REM cycle. It may be the ideal time to read the book. When I go back to sleep and then wake up, I remember what has happened to the characters, but I have no recollection of my own reading experience, which is perhaps the literary version of doing too much coke at Spago.
Ellis is right about being a serious writer. Amid all the nihilistic hedonism in the book, there’s a defined aesthetic and a defined moral position. He articulates an idea about the Way We Live Now or The Way They Lived in the 80s. This puts puts Bret Easton Ellis into a category a lot of writers aren’t even trying to get to. For instance, Lorrie Moore, who I love, who Bret Easton Ellis loves, and whose very funny short story is in the same issue of the Paris Review, doesn’t seem to be trying to say something larger about the human condition, Older Single Woman Living In The Midwest edition. That’s ok. She and Bret Easton Ellis are up to different things.
Spoiler alert: here’s how the Bret Easton Ellis interview ends:
So this is where I’ve ended up—in a BMW in West Hollywood, doing my Paris Review interview while talking about a Duran Duran biopic pitch … This is where I landed, and that’s fine.
Whatever you think of Duran Duran, West Hollywood, BMWs or Bret Easton Ellis, he believes in his creative pursuits with autonomy and has made a life that works for him. It’s a hell of a lot more than zero.