The Shards - Bret Easton Ellis
As a teenager, I was obsessed with Less Than Zero and Rules of Attraction, the first novels of American Brat Pack author Bret Easton Ellis, whom I’d discovered in a dedication at the start of another favourite, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (they had both shared the same graduating class at Bennington College).
I was coming to terms with my sexuality, and in these days before internet porn and gay characters in mainstream media, stumbling upon the ultra-privileged ambisexual Californians who populated these controversial novels felt like tumbling through a secret door into a new room in the house, one where I could privately rehearse a new and exhilarating adult self.
I credit Bret Easton Ellis for giving me permission to write. I penned countless four-page stories that shamelessly aped his affectless style: horny, decadent and utterly cinematic. I think only one survives. Re-reading it today was predictably cringeworthy, sure, but it also brought up a certain tenderness for the confused teenager I was then, trapped in a prison of longing, escaping in a fictionalized LA of pool parties, pills and sexual possibility.
The story I found – Holly At The Mall - is narrated by Holly, a handsome 18-year-old senior in an LA high school, and a stand-in for my most private aspirational self. It relates a trip to a mall in Westwood to score some weed and is written in BEE’s detached manner, as if through a haze of hypnotic sedation. When Holly catches sight of a raptor-like reptile crouching behind a BMW who later sinks its razor-sharp teeth into the throat of a Gucci-clad housewife loading groceries into her car, he only breaks a sweat because it's 104 degrees out.
Jurassic Park had been a recent hit, but the raptor also reminds me of the metaphorical lizard-like figures in the pan-sexual indie films of Greg Arakki, another influence. The raptors recur in another story, Holly Would If He Could, when they interrupt a pool party in Silver Lake just as our protagonist is about to hook up with a hot guy, making me think they stood for the danger I associated then with gay sex (AIDS was at its peak, and gay bashing was everywhere).
The wallpaper behind the action is a canvas of late-90s pop culture references, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to De La Soul and Larry Clark’s Kids. And because I was deep down a sweet kid, BEE’s nihilism was shot through with hopefulness, borrowed no doubt from Douglas Coupland’s Generation X which I’d read a dozen times by then.
With his meta-fictional fever dream The Shards, BEE returns to form – and to the vibe of his early tales of over-privileged youth. I won’t review it, there’s no point when Rob Doyle’s Guardian review captures my exact thoughts. My thoughts on Ellis soured post-American Psycho, as I grew older, his novels grew heavier, and we all got to know him a little better. But I’m grateful to him for this clever, atmospheric throwback, if only because it allowed me to reconnect to that lonely, horny boy who felt compelled to write himself a different life.