Volume 93, Issue 10

Wednesday, September 15, 1999


West Side crackles with high energy

Royal Trux driven by independence

Ellis novel worth retrospect

Days, Moxy have big returns

Ellis novel worth retrospect

Less Than Zero
Bret Easton Ellis
Vintage Books

Whether it be fluffy music, off-the-shoulder mesh shirts or punk hair, mention of the '80s can usually draw a smile from even the hardest cynic. There's an air of nostalgia which surrounds the decade, almost an air of forgiveness. However, author Bret Easton Ellis does not laugh off the era of horrible fashions and Generation Xers quite so casually.

As the author of the acclaimed novel American Psycho, soon to be released on film, Ellis' name will achieve household status in the next few months. However, it's in his older works where Ellis truly forged his way as one of the most prolific authors of the 20th century. Less Than Zero, Ellis' novel from 1985, is a perfect example of time-sensitive literature which grows in relevance as the years pass.

Set in the early '80s, Clay is a first-year college student returning to his home, Los Angeles, for the holidays. He faces the normal obstacles returning freshmen routinely encounter – only in Clay's world, cocaine is one of the four food groups.

The novel follows his holiday from day to day, as he tries to get a foothold on his life which is slowly slipping away. His best friend Julian hustles for heroin, his little sisters are stealing his coke and his ex-girlfriend chases tequila shooters with bourbon. As bizarre as the scenario may seem, it's nothing out of the ordinary for Clay.

Ellis describes the gritty L.A. underworld like no one else does, with an obsessive attention to detail and terrifying, remorseless characters who could be the boys next door. The glitz and glamour of L.A. merely accents this psychological study of addiction, not necessarily to narcotics, but to what is perceived as normalcy.

What will frighteningly seep into your mind while you drift between sleep and consciousness is the disturbing realism Ellis creates with subtlety. Every last chilling act in this novel maintains it's effect by the complacency with which Ellis describes it. Nothing is sensationalized, or run aside a blatant metaphor to comment on society. As a result of this quiet style the novel has the feel of a documentary, adding to it's credibility and therefore, it's horror.

Ellis has created a timeless piece of literature, unfit for the faint at heart. As the '90s come to a close and a little perspective can be afforded, looking back at this novel is a reminder of what the past 20 years created and perhaps what is in store for the future if it's not put to a stop.

–Christina Vardanis

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department:

Copyright The Gazette 1999