Back to the Future

Bret Easton Ellis' Sequel to Less Than Zero


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BRET EASTON ELLIS has made quite a career out of privileged nihilism, so much so that one has to wonder whether his work is still a criticism of all things shallow and world weary, or if he's embraced the horrific and glamorous ennui as an end, not a means. Either way, his newest, Imperial Bedrooms, is vintage Ellis, with narrator Clay Easton—first introduced in the writer's 1985 debut—returning to LA as he did in Less than Zero. And what was once the bored and sad world of a coked-up teenager is now the alcoholic, middle-aged world of social-climbing actresses and the skeevy old film execs who prey on them.

Clay is a successful screenwriter who has returned to Hollywood to help cast his latest film. From his first step off the plane, he has a nagging feeling that someone is following his every move. Cars trail him and suspicious people shadow his ventures throughout the city in increasingly noirish fashion. With a synchronicity that mirrors Less Than Zero, Clay encounters all his old friends—his ex-girlfriend Blair, the freakishly plastic-surgery-enhanced Rip, and his former best friend Julian, a male prostitute turned high-class pimp. But it's Rain, a beautiful young actress who's desperate to be cast in Clay's new film, who finally lights a spark under his jaded fortysomething ass. King of his domain, the casting couch, Clay uses his power to dominate and control Rain with sadistic abandon. My, how our little stonehearted teenager has grown into a fine upstanding man.

As Rip, Clay's friend and drug dealer, says in Less Than Zero before raping a drugged 12-year-old, "If you want something, you have the right to do it." When Clay insists that Rip has everything, Rip replies: "No, I don't. I don't have anything to lose." With Imperial Bedrooms, Ellis has created a work that goes even deeper into the heart of dead feelings and sociopathic boredom. It's a place that's hard to frequent with any sort of regularity, but once every 25 years is a goodly amount of time to catch up between visits with Clay and his friends. So—until 2035, when we read about the oldest living teenagers at Los Angeles' most expensive retirement home, where they enjoy roofied laxatives and rowdy nights of orgiastic adult-diaper changing.


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