Resurrector: American Psycho (the book)

A rotating guest column in which writers reexamine critically unacclaimed works of art

Resurrector: American Psycho (the book)

Susan Steinberg
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When Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho came out, I was working in a bookstore in Baltimore. I was just out of art school. My priorities were social. My state of mind was tragic. My intellect was a work in progress. None of this mattered then. Then, the word wrong meant “right.” The books my friends and I liked were wrong. The music we liked was wrong. We thrived on our collective wrongness. I say this not as an excuse, but as a way to create setting. I wasn’t a person who read reviews. I didn’t know which works were unacclaimed. I still, more often than not, don’t know. I mean, not unless it affects my life directly, which American Psycho did. It wasn’t because I read it, which, at the time, I hadn’t. It was because it was controversial. This is an understatement. It was panned (and banned), and the local paper called the store to see if we carried the book. I’d been told to say we didn’t carry any of the author’s books. This was true. It wasn’t about censorship but, evidently, taste. The books, it seemed, just weren’t that good. I wouldn’t share with the paper that I gravitated toward the tasteless. I also wouldn’t share that I’d once read one of his other books and liked it. Instead, I’d align myself with the critics. And I’d rise, for the first time in my life, to that rarefied space of the virtuous. 

I’m now remembering my mother taking me to see Monty Python’s Life of Brian. We didn’t know much about the movie going in, but my mother was a fan of Monty Python, and it was playing at the mall. There was a man in a vest tearing tickets in half. As we handed over our tickets, I could see he was angry. He was angry, it turned out, at my mother. He was outraged that this woman would take her kid to see this movie. This had to do with religion. He shamed her so hard and so loudly, we had to leave. I cried all the way to the car. I thought we were in trouble. I thought we’d be punished by God. I worried our interest in a bad thing made us a bad thing. But on the ride home, my mother went off on the man in the vest. He was the bad one, not us. He was the one yelling, and fuck him. So there was the green light for me to determine my own spiritual corruption.

American Psycho was required reading when I was in grad school. This was years after its publication, and I was secretly intrigued. But my peers were upset that the book was required. So the collective decision was not to read it. The collective decision was to skip class on the day we were to discuss it. It hadn’t, though, occurred to me not to read a required book. By then I’d read so much required violence. Fiction was filled, so I’d discovered, with psychos. And I trusted our professor. He was curious, and now I, too, was curious. I wanted to know what was in this book so hated by those who hadn’t read it. So I read it. I don’t know how to describe what reading it was like. I’ll just say it was startling. I felt stunned. Perhaps you wonder if this means I liked it. And I wonder: If I liked it, would you not like me? My opinion is, and always will be, irrelevant. So this isn’t a recommendation. It isn’t even a resurrection. I mean, the resurrection happened already. So it’s more a recollection of one. It’s more a gesture of one. It’s more a fuck you to the man in the vest. Metaphorically. Literally. The story is: I went to class. Hardly anyone showed up. I still remember who did.

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