If Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (American, 1991) doesn’t actually sadistically kill numerous women, children, and maybe a few men, then this novel is possibly the saddest story ever told.
Many years ago I watched Christian Bale play Bateman in the film American Pscyho but for some reason while I do remember the INXS and the murder scenes, I do not remember the abundant fascination with AIDS, Bateman’s barely concealed homoerotic desires, nor the very important role of the homeless (and dominating theme of homelessness). These three aspects of the novel — AIDS (and disease), homosexuality, and homelessness — seemed to be what the novel is ABOUT: much more so than it is about a rich, bored, and crazed trust-fund kid who goes on a murder spree.
The most repeated phrase in the book is “a nameless dread,” which Bateman uses over and again to describe his feelings. Other than this phrase, the second most repeated word was “sad.” Then, maybe “red.”
Bateman’s fantasy of brutally raping, torturing, and killing women — especially — is interesting. It, of course, suggests that he is not only misogynistic but repressing his own sexuality. The first murder scene “fails” but is telling of the nature of Bateman’s grotesque fantasies. Wanting to kill Luis he corners him in a bathroom stall. I think that he is strangling Luis. So does he. Come to find out, he’s actually kissing Luis, stroking his cheek. Loving him. Luis tells Bateman that he loves him and Bateman, flabbergasted, realizes for the first time what he tries to cover up throughout the rest of the novel: that he loves Luis.
His latent desire morphs into a fun-land fantasy of killing women — and their children. However, I am never really sure if his murders are “real.” In the film, I remember that they are made, in the end, to be pure fantasy.
In the novel, too, I get the sense that at least his murders of men are not real: Owen and Luis are still alive. The women, might be real. But if none of them are real, then American Psycho is the saddest story I’ve ever read. It captures a man’s longing to scapegoat women due to his own feelings of inadequacy. He can’t feel how he wants to feel. Love whom he wants to love. And he blames women. He wants to kill them all in the most brutal way.
I felt bad for Bateman to a certain extent.
For me, the book was, of course, about gender roles. The “nameless dread” I attribute to a kind of masculine ideal. His fantasies of harming women were so pathetic. So sad.
Bateman is really homeless. Literally. He is unheimlich. Uncanny. Away from the mother’s genitals. Trying to get back in.