Thursday, December 15, 2022

Book Review: Less Than Zero

Clay comes home for Christmas vacation from his Eastern college and re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where everyone drives Porches, dines at Spago, and snorts mountains of cocaine. He tries to renew feelings for his girlfriend, Blair, and for his best friend from high school, Julian, who is careering into hustling and heroin. Clay's holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the relentless parties in glitzy mansions, seedy bars, and underground rock clubs, and into the seamy world of L.A. after dark.

Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, this coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation that experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, growing up in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money.

Less Than Zero is the debut novel by Bret Easton Ellis. It was first published in May of 1985 from Simon and Shuster.

While I knew of the 1987 film from which this book inspired (I don't actually believe I have seen the whole thing) and am a big fan of the Bangle's cover of "Hazy Shade of Winter" which was part of the soundtrack, I had not read this novel back in the day. Ellis has a new novel The Shards coming out next month (which I will be reviewing), so I thought I would check out his first work before I checked out that one.

Ellis is a year older than I am, and he wrote this novel while still in college with it being published when he was twenty-one. I find that very impressive; I myself had wanted to be a writer but was steered by my parents to a more practical field (I ended up studying computer science for my undergraduate degree). Even though my own young adult experiences are so far and removed from Ellis, I can very much relate to the music and cultural references in this story. Every song and band reference I knew (and are things I still listen to today, forty years later). Had I read this when it first came out in 1985, it would have very much been a favorite because of its familiar beats.

Looking at it with a much more expereinced eye, I do find it rather straight-forward in structure (just over 200 pages, no formal chapters - just scenes with breaks, everyday language with the occasional run-on sentences to match the narrative character's own thought patterns at the time when he is high). However, that simpler approach works well to deliver a very raw, very real story that was very reflective of a specific class in a very specific place and time. I am not sure how much it resonates with 21st Century audiences, but it certainly resonated with me as someone who was a young adult of the early 80's.

This pairs very well with another 80's novel that is a favorite of mine - Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City from 1984.

No comments: